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'We're living in the Dark Ages!' West Norfolk couple slam council in planning enforcement row

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A West Norfolk couple say they’ve been left “living in the dark ages” because of officials’ failure to act on planning issues affecting their home.

A senior councillor has also slammed the borough authority’s “chocolate fireguard” approach to resolving the issues faced by Geoff and Kim Leates at their home in West Bilney.

But the council insists its staff are doing “everything we can” to fix the problems.

Geoff and Kim Leates say a lack of planning enforcement action is having a devastating impact on life at their home in West Bilney (56991029)
Geoff and Kim Leates say a lack of planning enforcement action is having a devastating impact on life at their home in West Bilney (56991029)

Mr and Mrs Leates say they first notified West Norfolk Council of the impact that work on a nearby site was having on their property in June last year.

An enforcement notice was subsequently issued by the authority in January, after it turned down an application for retrospective planning permission.

But the deadline for restoration work to be completed has been extended since then, most recently earlier this month.

In the meantime, the couple have dug a number of trenches on their land, which they claim are necessary to prevent water from flooding their home.

They say they also warned the council of the likely impact on them before a winter they described as “horrendous”.

And they said the issue is affecting even some of the most basic aspects of their lives, leaving them dealing with unhealthy living conditions on a daily basis.

Mr Leates said: “We’re not living a normal life. We can’t flush our toilet every time we use it because we have to really manage our waste water now.

“The council don’t seem to be concerned with the fact we’re living in the dark ages.”

Asked how it has affected them, he added: “It’s killing us. I don’t know how we’re still standing to be honest and they just don’t care.”

The couple, who have made a formal complaint about their treatment and have threatened legal action, have also raised their concerns with the area’s MP, James Wild.

And they are being supported by their ward councillor, Jim Moriarty, who believes the authority’s planning department is currently failing both residents and developers alike.

He said: “We are a ‘computer says no’ council.

“We are complacent and appear to have no interest in the views of residents with genuine concerns about breaches of planning permissions.

“This case is particularly distressing and our enforcement efforts are a ‘chocolate fireguard’.”

Mr Moriarty urged the council’s ruling Conservative administration to “get to grips with this issue or be more honest with the people of West Norfolk”.

He added: “We currently appear to letting both developers and objectors down – not fit for purpose.”

But the authority yesterday defended its handling of the planning row.

A spokesman told the Lynn News the authority was “satisfied that a significant amount” of the restoration work required by the enforcement notice had been completed.

She added: “We will ensure that any outstanding works, if required, are completed.

“As a gesture of goodwill the council has also offered to send a specialist drainage engineer to assess the septic tank at the affected property and provide further advice.

“We have much sympathy for the situation in which these residents find themselves.

“We are doing everything we can in respect of the planning matter, but anything beyond that is really a civil matter.

“We are listening to and working with both parties to help resolve the planning matter, and in addition our Environmental Health team have offered, as a gesture of goodwill, to arrange for a specialist drainage engineer to visit, and offer further advice.

“The likelihood is that the ground is saturated and so while the required soil removal works on the neighbouring site have been virtually completed, the saturated ground needs to be given a chance to dry out thoroughly.

“This makes it difficult to assess when the matter will be resolved. Our environmental health officers have previously suggested a means of improvement that the householder could undertake to ease the situation.

“We are continuing to monitor the situation and to seek full compliance in a timely manner.”

The spokesman also defended the performance of the council’s planning department after concerns were raised during a recent meeting of the authority’s corporate performance panel.

She said: “We have an effective planning enforcement team, who whilst dealing with a high caseload of around 500 cases at the moment, are outperforming other Norfolk authorities in terms of taking formal enforcement action to regularise breaches of planning control.

“These cases can vary from straight forward breaches to very complicated matters that take months and sometimes years to resolve.

“As always with enforcement action, a process has to be followed, and this can include a right of appeal. Complainants often find this process difficult, because it can seem slow.

“When working on enforcement cases, the first step is always to see if the matter can be resolved quickly or regularised with a retrospective planning application.

“In this instance, a planning application was submitted to retain earth works that had taken place in a neighbour’s garden.

“However, that application was subsequently refused due to insufficient information being received, to show that the development was not having a harmful impact upon adjacent neighbours’ drainage.

“An enforcement notice was issued soon after the refusal, and officers have monitored to ensure timely compliance with it.”

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