A North council has broken planning regulations by handing over public files to a consultant based 100 miles away.
Berwick Borough Council’s handling of the planning row over a series of wind farm developments means local people cannot “easily access” papers dealing with the controversial developments.
They include plans for 10 turbines at Moorsyde, near Allerdean, nine at Barmoor, near Lowick, 10 at Wandylaw, on the boundary with Alnwick District, and seven at Toft Hill, near Grindon.
The authority – the second smallest in England – has no planning officers of its own capable of dealing with the applications. Instead, it has hired a planning consultant from Darlington to handle the huge workload – and he has the papers in his possession.
A Planning Inspectorate spokeswoman confirmed that Under the Town and Country Planning Act of 1990, they should be openly available for public scrutiny in Berwick.
A spokesman for Moorsyde Action Group said: “The days when Berwick had a planning department with officers who knew the area and felt a responsibility to local communities seem to be over. The planning department now appears to be run by consultants from outside the county, who are not accessible.
“Local people are being denied access to public files.”
He added: “We had the same problem in November 2006, when the Planning Unit repeatedly told us, without any explanation, that the Moorsyde case file was `unobtainable’. We only discovered later that the council’s consultant had removed it so he could work at home.” Senior planning consultant Rod Hepplewhite, of Darlington-based Blackett, Hart and Pratt, yesterday confirmed that the papers were currently in his possession.
He said: “The important thing is that the application documents themselves are still at Berwick, but I do have the response bundles here in Darlington.
“If anyone wants to see the papers, I can deliver them up to Berwick myself, or have them sent by overnight courier.”
Borough director of regeneration and development Shona Alexander said: “There is no problem. If anyone wants to see the files, we will make them available.”
But a spokeswoman for the Planning Inspectorate said: “The regulations state that these documents should be readily available for public inspection at the principal planning office.”
By Robert Brooks
17 May 2007
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