22 February 2011

The badger's back

Another planning application has been received by SSDC relating to the land at Badger's Cross owned (I understand) by the ex-Vice Chair of Somerton Town Council, Tony Canvin.

The site has something of a controversial history having first sprung to prominence as a proposed Household Waste Recycling Centre. That project, sponsored by Mr Canvin and promoted by then County Councillor Pauline Clarke, ran into a storm of opposition when it was finally made public in 2009. It was also one of the catalysts for the mass resignation of the Town Council in October 2009 as it was the focus of calls for a Town referendum on the HWRC which would have forced the delinquent Council of that time to listen to the wider community.

Since that time Mr canvin has made a number of attempts to gain planning consent for the industrial use of the land, something which, given Mr Canvin's involvement at the Bancombe Road Trading Estate, would be the precursor to his development of Bancombe mk2.

The latest attempt is to seek planning consent under the guise of what is called a 'certificate of lawfulness'. You can get more information about this developer's wheeze here but there are two thrusts to such an application. The application can either seek to have a particular use or activity deemed lawful or have a proposed use or activity deemed lawful. The point being that the applicant is seeking to circumvent the planning process and avoiding actually seeking specific consent for the actual or proposed use. (Canvin's colleague ex-Cllr 'invisible' Dave Smith pulled a similar stunt at Badgers Cross with his timber chalet which he erected without planning consent.)

This approach raises a number of issues which may have an impact upon South Somerset District Council (already in the news because of Phil 'loadsamoney' Dolan's golden payoff) and might raise the spectre of liability.

Firstly, there is the awkward issue (for the applicant that is) of the planning opinion written by the applicant's planning consultant, Matt Frost, in 2004 whilst he was in the employ of SSDC. That opinion, sought by an agent acting for the then owner, was quite specific in there being no extant B2 use on the site and I am sure that opinion influenced the manner in which the land was marketed and sold. Were the Planning Authority now to agree that there was such a use then the original vendor might have a claim against the Authority for compensation.

Then there is the matter of the absence of enforcement action against the activity on the land since the applicant became the owner. These activities have been the subject of serial complaints to SSDC's planning enforcement team yet no action has been taken by SSDC. Were the Planning Authority to grant a CoL they would, in effect, be aiding and abetting the previous activity on the site for which there was no planning consent. Furthermore, the Planning Authority would be giving comfort to such actions and, in so doing, encouraging others to do likewise.

All in all, its a sorry tale and reflects badly on District Councillors like Mr Canvin who, as elected representatives, should be seen to obey both the letter and the spirit of the law. But, as ever, accountability seems to stop short of our elected representatives at all levels.

Till next application, I'm still Niall Connolly