Small victory in the fight against planning power

Some of the campaigners who have been fighting development plans at Hawthorn Road, Clive Vale, left to right, Mike Watkins, Geoff Dickinson, Eileen Williams, Lynne and Bob Okines.

Some of the campaigners who have been fighting development plans at Hawthorn Road, Clive Vale, left to right, Mike Watkins, Geoff Dickinson, Eileen Williams, Lynne and Bob Okines.

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A BAND of angry residents who fear a development on unstable land could end in disaster have been awarded thousands in compensation after an ombudsman sided with them over Hastings Borough Council.

Around 30 people who live on or near Hawthorn Road have long-lobbied against plans to build 16 new homes in the area.

And the campaigners, led by husband and wife Lynne and Bob Okines, unearthed evidence three years ago which they say proved planning permission given to the Park Lane Group had been based on an inaccurate Certificate of Lawful Use.

The residents believe that a dispute over details of the original application made back in 1978 essentially invalidate subsequent planning permission and should have been taken into account when looking at the most recent application, by Park Lane Group in 2008.

And earlier this week the local government ombudsman looking at the case agreed, ordering Hastings Borough Council (HBC) to stump up £2,250 compensation.

And he also ruled that there was evidence of ‘maladministration’ committed by HBC and the planning department regarding the three-year row.

However, despite receiving the backing of the ombudsman, the struggle is far from over for the worried residents. The council has not been ordered to reverse the existing Certificate of Lawful Use so, despite the campaigners being proved right, the development will still go ahead.

And, according to Mrs Okines, the concerns over the stability of the land have not gone away. She said: “It is nice to have our argument validated by the ombudsman but if the council had listened to us and paid attention to our evidence we would not be where we are now.

“To them we were just residents who did not know what we were talking about.

“It was never about stopping development, only making sure it was done properly.”

Mrs Okines reiterated concerns over the capacity of the local drainage network and the stability of the land, arguing the local authority had a duty to make sure the site was suitable. She said: “We should not have had to fight and struggle for three years just to make sure something is built safely.”

Kevin Boorman, spokesman for HBC, said: “The council made its decision in good faith based on the information it had available at the time. It subsequently came to light that this information was flawed.

“The council accepts the decision of the ombudsman and the recommended compensation has already been paid.

“It should be noted that the ombudsman did not recommend paying the full costs requested by Mrs Okines because he was satisfied that the council had dealt with other planning issues correctly, albeit not to Mrs Okines’s satisfaction.”

Mrs Okines vowed to keep pressing the council until the residents’ concerns had been fully addressed and urged other people facing similar disputes elsewhere in the town to do likewise.

“We would not give up because we knew 100 per cent that we were right,” she said. Mistakes are made and people should not just accept things as being a done deal if they are not happy.”