The so-called ‘shed-gate’ row which saw dozens of families in a Northumberland village investigated has prompted a review of how possible planning breaches are probed.
Earlier this year Lynemouth was left ‘in turmoil’ after more than 70 households were told they could be hit with bills of £206 each to secure formal permission for sheds and outbuildings, many of which had stood for years.
The move prompted accusations Northumberland County Council had been ‘unfair and disproportionate’ in the way it dealt with the controversy.
But the local authority has insisted it was compelled to act once it had been alerted by an anonymous complainant, however it hopes a review of its policies later this year will give it more ‘flexibility’ in pursuing future cases.
According to a report due to be presented to Monday’s (June 14) meeting of the Castle Morpeth Local Area Committee: “Once the complaints had been lodged, the council was statutorily obliged to investigate.
“It could not ignore related cases that became apparent during the site visit.
“In this case, it is considered that a “light touch” was taken [and that] discretion was taken over the use of enforcement powers and an extended timescale for responses given.”
The paper added the council planning officers should now have more power to avoid being drawn into acting as ‘proxies’ in disputes and disagreements between neighbours.
Initially, a single complaint was submitted by a member of the public about about possible breaches of planning regulations related to 35 sheds and outbuildings in the front gardens of properties in Lynemouth.
Council staff noted a further 25 possible breaches while probing the original objection, while a second complaint raised issues at an additional 12 homes.
Out of a total 72 homes investigated, 64 cases were closed with no further action taken, while the remaining eight face a ‘formal expediency test’.
A 146-signature petition to the county council slammed the way the stress the process had placed on families.
It said: “We regard the action taken by this council to impose planning enforcement procedures on over 60 residents in Lynemouth to be unfair and disproportionate.
“In the midst of a global pandemic, this action disregards this council’s duty of care towards the health and wellbeing of its constituents.
“Residents are already suffering financially and proceeding with this action at this time will cause not only further financial hardship for many, but also poses a threat to mental and physical wellbeing.”