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Errors in 'gates of wrath' saga

COUNCIL officers have admitted mistakes on legal papers demanding action on entrance gates built in the countryside without planning permission.

Hart Council’s development control (enforcement) sub-committee will now discuss a report on the issue so officers can learn from the errors and ensure they do not happen again.

The gates were built illegally last summer at Peaked Croft Farm in Chalky Lane, Dogmersfield.

Hart issued a planning contravention notice on July 26 by recorded delivery, but it was returned.

The sub-committee report states there was then a six-week delay in the enforcement action due to the retirement of the enforcement officer, who was not replaced for five weeks, and summer holiday staff shortages.

Hart’s legal section therefore only received instructions on the enforcement action on September 13.

Hart issued three separate enforcement notices (ENs).

The report states: “Attempted service of the notices was made at the appropriate house (to the wife of the registered owner of the land) on September 13, and having been returned they were served again by post to the company secretary and again at the house, both on September 17.

“On this occasion, the notices were served by attaching them to the gates, as there were loose dogs on the land and neither Mrs Whelan (the wife of the applicant) nor staff on the farm were prepared to assist in contacting or making an appointment with Mr Whelan (the applicant).”

The householder and his solicitors objected strongly on a number of points, including the alleged trespass of those people serving the ENs and the fact that enforcement action was not being taken on similar structures along Chalky Lane.

The applicant’s solicitors also said the ENs were undated so they had “no legal effect”.

As retrospective planning applications had been received and the error was accepted following counsel’s advice, Hart withdrew the ENs on October 28.

The tale of woe has prompted officers to draw up a list of lessons to be learnt.

“Even when there is pressure to act quickly, legal documents should be checked thoroughly against a checklist by an officer who has not been involved in the drafting of the document,” states the sub-committee report.

“Planning officers should ensure that people who are alleged to have undertaken unauthorised development are given the opportunity to apply for retrospective planning permission before enforcement proceedings are started.

“There was no formal invitation to apply for retrospective permission and failure to follow our own procedures makes defending subsequent decisions more difficult.

“There are significant risk management implications in that errors in these areas can lead to appeals and litigation.”

Hart’s development control committee threw out a retrospective planning application, for the security gates, tarmac driveway, lampposts and access alterations, last month.

Cllr Sean Holden, who led the call for refusal, said: “The applicant describes these things as security gates, which itself is nonsense.

“Since when has a field required security gates, or will the next thing we see down there be the uprooting of another few hundred yards of hedge and the erection of a 7ft high wall around the field?”

Cllr Holden also hit out at the tarmac road built across the field with “ludicrous Narnia-style lampposts”.

“I see the style of architecture in this context as arrogant, pompous and intrusive,” he fumed.

“It is a slap in the face to the Dogmersfield community which cares deeply about the appearance of the village.”

Planning chief Ron Percival said he thought the gates were intrusive and out of character and the lampposts were “alien” to the open countryside.

The applicant can appeal against Hart’s decision and have the issue decided by a government planning inspector.


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