Council face probe over Garden Road housing

AN OFFICIAL investigation is to be launched into the decision to give permission for 217 new houses on former allotment land in Hucknall.

A long-running campaign has been waged by residents who object to the controversial plan for the site off Garden Road.

They were defeated when Bovis Homes were given the planning go-ahead by Ashfield District Council, who formerly owned the land. And work on the development has now started.

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However the Local Government Ombudsman has now agreed to a request from residents to launch an investigation into the planning decision.

Campaigners say the council are guilty of maladministration in the way they dealt with the plan and have reneged on a promise that access to the site would be via a former railway cutting to the east of the site.

Instead the access will be via the narrow Aitchison and Hawthorn Avenues nearby because it would cost too much to use the ex-railway cutting, which was formerly used as a landfill site and is contaminated.

Residents say the change of access to the 9.7 million development was done without consultation.

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There are also allegations that the ex-railway cutting was illegally blocked from being discussed at the meeting at which planning permission was granted – by a one-vote margin.

Campaigners also say the plan was wrongly discussed by the Labour group before the meeting and that the chairman of the planning committee, Coun John Bennett (Lab), influenced the decision by saying refusal to grant permission would lead to costs against the council.

There are even claims that another councillor, Derek Young (Lab), declared an interest in the issue but went on to vote in favour and that the council confused its role as both landowner and planning authority.

Helen Simpson, of Aitchison Avenue, is leading the campaign and has made it clear that the residents have never been against the development, just the planned access.

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She said: "We are pleased an investigation will be launched. Now we have to sit and wait to see what happens. We have a genuine complaint about the way we've been treated."

Hucknall's Labour MP Paddy Tipping has advised the residents and sent the letter to the ombudsman on their behalf.

He said: "The real issue here is that the residents say they were given a clear promise that access to the development would be over the former railway cutting."

The original letter was sent to the ombudsman last year and Ashfield District Council were given 16 weeks to respond. So far they have failed to do so.

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A council spokeswoman said they were aware of the investigation and added that newsletters were sent last December and last month to more than 600 houses explaining the council's position and dealing with concerns.

She added: "Unfortunately a formal response was not given to Mr Tipping, although the points he raised were the same as those received from individual residents.

"A formal apology and response has now been made, which will be copied to the ombudsman. The council do take seriously all complaints and will continue to ensure they are dealt with in a timely manner."

Bovis Homes said they weren't aware of the investigation but that it was a matter between the council and the ombudsman.