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Northumberland council opts against disciplinary action over wind bid

A North East council has opted against disciplinary action, despite its approval of a planning application being overturned at the High Court a third time.

Northumberland County Council says it will not be launching proceedings against any staff on the back of judges thrice quashing its granting of permission for a wind turbine near Berwick.

But the campaigner behind the three successful judicial reviews has voiced his disappointment at the authority’s review into its handling of the third application, claiming it appears to be blaming the judge rather than considering where it went wrong.

The application at the centre of the reviews is from John and George Barber, of Brackenside Farm.

The county council has approved their application on three occasions dating back to February 2012.

Each time, Cornhill farmer Andrew Joicey has successfully sought a judicial review of how it dealt with the proposal.

The council has on each occasion been ordered to pay Mr Joicey’s cost, with the total bill around £27,200.

Ahead of the third approval, the authority sought to have the review thrown out on the basis the farmer had submitted a copy of a document and not the original, with the judge branding that attempt “disgraceful.”

On the back of the third review, the authority promised a full investigation into where it had gone wrong, and to take appropriate action.

The council has now published the results of the investigation which reveal “there was a unanimous display of regret (among staff involved) for the way matters had been decided by the court.”

The authority proposes four recommendations to improve performance including regular training on software and a change in office procedures to ensure files for public inspection are readily available.

The report also recommends that it should be for council departments to decide whether to follow expert advice, that expert witnesses should be “warned” to attend court where it would be beneficial, and that “areas of concern or where the case is weak should be bolstered.”

It concludes: “Whilst there is always the scope to improve current procedures, nothing in the currency of this investigation has led to a finding that disciplinary proceedings need to be invoked against any individuals afore mentioned.”

Yet Mr Joicey said: “I am not surprised that the council seem to find little fault with their own procedures.

“It is rather as I suspected – they seem to claim instead that the judge was wrong.

“I did attend the court hearing for the two days and the judge was very hard on the council indeed and rightly so.

“Because at the end of the day the officers encouraged the committee members to approve the application which was not fit to be approved.

“There were sound planning reasons for refusal.”