Ombudsman move in housing plan row

OBJECTORS to a highly controversial housing scheme in Sheffield are complaining to the Local Government Ombudsman over the way the council has responded to their concerns.

They believe there has been maladministration over the handling of the future of the site off Dore Road, Dore, accusing the authority of failing to answer “basic and legitimate” questions.

The council says it has dealt with all applications “by the book” and “categorically denies” any accusations of maladministration.

The move to refer the case to the Ombudsman comes as councillors prepare to decide whether to give the go-ahead to the latest scheme, for 14 apartments, which has prompted more than 1,700 objections, a level of opposition described by critics as “unprecedented” in Dore.

The same council planning meeting is also expected to rule on whether to renew permission for an alternative scheme for eight houses. Developers have the option of implementing approval for six houses.

In assessing all three applications, campaigners say they not been given satisfactory information by the council and have been forced to use the Freedom of Information Act “to obtain the most basic of facts”.

They say the opinions of some planning and design officers were not reflected in reports to councillors and complain of a “lack of transparency” and delays in putting material on the council website.

“We have asked some basic and legitimate questions and not got answers,” said one of the objectors, Paul Millington.

The protesters are accusing the council of failing to follow planning policy and in particular of not adopting the powers given them by the Government to prevent overdevelopment and “garden grabbing”.

The latest apartments scheme is from Metropolitan Homes, which developed the Braemore complex of apartments off Ecclesall Road South.

Critics say it is inappropriate for “a rural location on a known blind bend next to a busy doctor’s surgery. It is opposite green belt, adjacent to allotments and just a few yards away from a conservation area,” they say in a submission to the council.

Council reports are being finalised and a decision could be made on February 6.

David Caulfield, the council’s head of planning, said the site at 135 Dore Road had planning permission for six houses which was granted in December 2009.

He added: “The council’s planning boards are independent and make their decisions based on evidence that is presented to them through officer reports and public representations.

“We have received a number of FOIs regarding planning applications for this site. Over the last nine months 20 FOI requests have been submitted, all of which have been answered in full.

“We feel that Sheffield City Council’s planning department has dealt with all of these applications by the book and in accordance with planning guidelines and regulations and categorically deny any accusations of maladministration.”