Posted: Wed 26th May 2021

Council bid to avoid paying £20,000 compensation to Flintshire woman who suffered ‘privacy loss’ is defeated

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Wednesday, May 26th, 2021

A local authority’s bid to avoid paying £20,000 in compensation to a woman who suffered a “loss of privacy” due to its actions has been defeated.

A report published in March found Flintshire Council guilty of maladministration after its planning department gave permission for the woman’s neighbour to build an annexe to the back of their home.

The Public Services Ombudsman for Wales said it represented unlawful development which should not have been permitted.

Ombudsman Nick Bennett concluded the woman suffered a loss of privacy as a result of the decision, which affected the enjoyment of her home and garden, and caused her “significant injustice”.

He made a number of recommendations, including that the council should pay the woman, named in the report as Ms N, to cover the reduction in the value of her home resulting from the development.

However, while the authority agreed to apologise for its failings and review whether the conditions attached to the planning permission had been complied with, it objected to the £20,000 compensation payment.

Councillors were yesterday (Wednesday, 26 May) asked to reject the sum arrived at by the district valuer and instead pay Ms N only £5,000.

Outlining its reasons, Gareth Owens, the council’s monitoring officer, said: “It has taken a long time to resolve this matter for the complainant and that must have been very unsettling and distressing.

“We also accept that there has been some visual intrusion caused by the building in the back garden where previously there wasn’t.

“However, there are limits to having some sympathy for the complainant’s situation for two significant reasons.

“The first is the neighbour’s right to appeal and further because of the neighbour’s right to construct what is called permitted development.”

He added: “Officers are suggesting compensation, but we believe we are suggesting compensation at a more realistic value as it is very likely that a building would have been constructed anyway.

“We are recommending a much lower level of compensation to reflect those two distinctions.”

Mr Owens said the council had considered whether to launch a legal challenge against the findings.

However, he said the process would have been costly and could have damaged the authority’s relationship with the ombudsman’s office.

Some councillors agreed with the recommendation by officers to pay Ms N a lower amount than recommended by the district valuer.

Cllr Chris Bithell, Labour cabinet member for planning, said: “This is something which we cannot and should not accept for several reasons.

“There’s a maxim in planning that when you buy a house, you don’t buy the view.

“That’s an important factor because sometime in the future somebody could very well come along and build something to your rear or the side of your property, which will have an impact on your property.”

His views were supported by planning committee chair David Wisinger.

But other councillors argued the full amount should be paid to the woman in light of the ombudsman’s findings.

It follows Mr Bennett previously expressing his disappointment that the council had not initially agreed to the recommendations.

Cllr Richard Jones, who is part of the Independent Alliance group, said: “In my view, it would be unfair to not pay that amount to this lady because we’re admitting maladministration.

“I also think that sometimes in life, if you have to pay for what you do wrong, we all learn by that and we’re more sympathetic next time.”

Conservative group leader Clive Carver said he was concerned whether action could be taken against individual councillors for ignoring the ombudsman’s recommendation.

He said: “Councillors are really conscious that you ignore the ombudsman at your peril.

“Yet here we are today here today hearing that Flintshire County Council will accept the findings of maladministration, but not the recommendation.

“Will this council be offering support to councillors who seem to be between a rock and a hard place?”

Councillors voted to support paying the woman the full amount of £20,000 in compensation by a margin of 29 votes to 25 at the end of the debate, with three abstentions.

By Liam Randall – Local Democracy Reporter

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