Council criticised over homes: Permission given for houses in beauty spots. Christian Wolmar reports

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The Independent Online
COUNCILLORS in North Cornwall who gave planning permission for many new houses on an attractive coastline against national planning guidelines have been severely criticised after an inquiry.

The inquiry's report makes 64 recommendations and also criticises the local Department of the Environment office for not intervening sufficiently. The events were first highlighted by the Independent in April 1991.

The inquiry, set up after councillors refused to agree to requests by the department to change their planning practices, says there was no evidence of corruption among councillors but suggests that they favoured certain local applicants. These were mainly farmers who wanted to build on their land and they tended to build them on the top of hills, ruining many beauty spots.

Although many of these were said to be for retiring farmers, they were put up for sale as soon as they were completed.

The inquiry, conducted by Audrey Lees, a former senior planner at the Greater London Council, suggests that granting planning permission for a plot of land is worth pounds 50,000 to the applicant. She said: 'In one year, 13 planning permissions were obtained by members of the planning committee or their close relatives.'

Some of these were 'the very worst examples of sporadic development in the countryside'. Although 'there is nothing illegal in any of this', she recommends that members of the committee contemplating applications should 'consider carefully whether they should resign' from the committee before submitting the application.

The council, which is dominated by independents, many of whom are elected unopposed, has continued to ignore planning guidelines.

Only last week an application for a new home in open countryside at Week St Mary was called in by the Secretary of State for the Environment. David Curry, the planning minister, warned yesterday: 'If we have to keep calling in applications, the District Auditor might have to take legal action and the question of surcharge and disqualification for councillors could not be ruled out.'

The council consistently ignored Cornwall's structure plan in granting planning permission. Between January 1990 and September 1991, it allowed 84 developments, mostly for isolated rural dwellings, which breached the plan.

Brenda Parsons, a Bude councillor who drew attention to the planning anomalies, said last night: 'This has completely vindicated six years of campaigning on the issue. I'm delighted.'

A copy of the inquiry report is being sent to every local authority in Britain to ensure that they do not make the same mistakes. The council would not comment last night.

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