When your local council makes a rogue planning decision which severely damages your daily life, fighting back can be like banging your head against a brick wall. In the case of Syrie Peters, a grandmother of two who suffers from emphysema and frequent lung infections, it’s a four metre high blank brick wall which infringes on her private garden.
Her nightmare began when a private Islamic School, Apex, received permission from Redbridge Council to open for business in a converted house in a residential street in Ilford.
The school first got the permission in 2008, subject to a condition limiting the number of pupils to 48. It then applied to erect a courtyard extension, including the high brick wall along Mrs Peters’ boundary. The extension was approved on condition that the courtyard would only be used as a play area for one hour a day.
Since opening, however, the school has allegedly ignored these restrictions and Redbridge Council has allegedly taken no action to enforce them. An Ofsted inspection found that the number of pupils doubled to over 100 and neighbours complain that the courtyard is in regular – and noisy – use , something the school denies, according to the Council. A school governor said: “There is an extreme shortage of school places in the borough. We are seeking a retrospective permission to address parental demand and increase the numbers.”
Peters thought things would get better when her complaint to the Local Govermment Ombudsman was finally upheld this summer. On 14th August Dr Jane Martin found Redbridge Council guilty of maladministration over the way it gave planning permission for the conversion into a school and ordered compensation. The council agreed to instruct the District Valuer to assess the damage to the values of the homes and pay compensation in that sum.
Until this week, however, the council has apparently done nothing but obfuscate by seeking an extension of time, which the Ombudsman refused. On the other hand, it is now considering a retrospective planning application made by the school to approve both their increased enrolment numbers and hours of playtime.
In her report, the Ombusdman concluded that the assessment of the 2008 planning application was faulty as it made no reference to the impact on neighbours of the 4.15 metre high blank brick wall or the appearance and size of the proposal in relation to the surrounding area. Had it been, she said, the application would have been refused.
“The Council should pay the complainants any diminution in the value of their properties. The Council has agreed to this recommendation”, she said. But not just yet.
Local MP Mike Gapes is very angry, as this is one of a long list of similar complaints he is handling. “I am increasingly concerned about your failure to deal with unauthorised development and breaches of planning rules”, he wrote to the leader of Redbridge Council. “It is extremely frustrating for local residents that the council seems unwilling or unable to act to enforce its own decisions”.
As this article was being written, and over three months after the Ombudsman published her decision and I began questioning them, Redbridge produced this response: “The residents concerned are being contacted this week with information about how the Council is taking this issue forward. We are already in contact with the District Valuer and will be asking them to conduct a valuation to assess the compensation payable”.
In the meanwhile, a second complaint to the Ombudsman has been lodged concerning the council’s failure to enforce its conditions regarding the number of pupils and use of the playground. Syrie Peters wonders whether she will live long enough to benefit from the outcome.