A BOMBSHELL admission by West Berkshire Council – that it can no longer routinely enforce planning rules – is having its predicted effect, it was claimed last week.
The latest instance concerns a controversial development in Upper Eddington, where residents say houses are being sold before planning conditions have been met.
In February, this newspaper reported how West Berkshire Council’s principal planning enforcement officer, Richard Beech, had written to another local resident concerning a separate matter – admitting his team could no longer afford to routinely investigate all planning breaches.
In the letter, he said that Government cuts had forced the council to “reduce the level of planning enforcement staffing resource”, and added: “Unfortunately that reduction now means that the planning service can no longer investigate or action all reports of breaches of planning control.”
Carolann Farrell, who chairs Hungerford Town Council’s environment and planning committee, expressed grave concern at the time, and warned: “There will be people saying: ‘They got away with that, why shouldn’t I?’
“It will be seen as an open door for anyone if they think there are things that won’t be chased up.
“It seems this could be just the start of a slippery slope. It worries me greatly.”
The latest instance of the district council’s inability to investigate potential breaches, or enforce the rules, happened at Upper Eddington, where, last August, a planning inspector ruled that two new homes could stay despite having been built without planning permission.
The homes have recently gone on the market, but neighbours raised concerns about apparently unfinished work.
Specifically, said near neighbour Matt Ulry: “The original site clearance of a store shed has left unfinished ground work – our driveway, retaining wall and surrounding ground have not been replaced back to the pre-development condition.”
He and others asked West Berkshire Council to take enforcement action.
But Mr Beech, replied: “As part of its continued measures to reduce the budget deficit, the Government’s funding allocation to local authorities across the country has been reduced.
“Unfortunately that reduction now means that the planning service can no longer immediately investigate or action all reports of breaches of planning control... the case that you have requested to be investigated is considered to be low priority.
“I now confirm to you that... no enforcement investigation will start at this time.
“Any investigation into this case will not commence until time becomes available following work on cases which would otherwise result in greater immediate or long-term harm to the environment and people in the locality.”
Mr Ulry said: “Our disappointment with West Berkshire Council can’t be overstated.”