The Sentinel, Newcastle


12:00 - 10 May 2005

No Disciplinary action will be taken against council officials despite a blunder which meant a phone mast was put up without planning permission. Newcastle Borough Council launched an investigation into plans by mobile phone firm Orange to build a mast at the junction of Clayton Lane and Clayton Road, in Clayton.

The probe was ordered because planning officers failed to inform Orange's agent, Marconi, that the mast plan had been refused by councillors after a 350-name petition against the development was handed in by residents in March. Orange say the mast will now be installed.

But the council has ruled no disciplinary action should be taken, although a review of procedures will now take place.

Families living near the site say the decision is unacceptable. Ray Rees, a father-of-four from Warwick Avenue, Clayton, said: "The council seem to be unable to acknowledge what happened and give the full details."

Mr Rees, aged 53, has submitted a formal complaint to the council but says his questions about what happened have not been fully answered.

He said: "Planning officer Neale Clifton apologised for the error but there was no response relating to the reasons why it happened in the first place."

Planning legislation says that if a certain period of time passes without the planning authority notifying the applicant about the decision - 56 days - then the development can proceed.

Marconi said the deadline to notify it of a decision was March 17. It claimed they did not receive the notice until March 18.

An officers' report to councillors says post from Orange requesting details of a council decision was received by the council on January 21, but not marked as received until January 24. So officers used January 24 instead of January 21 to start the countdown for a notification.

The report states: "In this case the decision notice was sent, by fax, to the agents on March 18, one day late. At the time of the sending of the fax, officers were acting in the belief that they had until March 21 to ensure the agent had received the decision."

The gaffe has forced the council to admit procedural changes are needed.

The report adds: "The investigation has been unable to identify a specific individual who made an error. Accordingly no disciplinary proceeding has been taken in this matter. Nevertheless the investigation has highlighted procedural weaknesses that must, be addressed to minimise the likelihood of this kind of event arising in the future."

A spokesman for Orange confirmed the company had contacted Newcastle Borough Council and announced it intends to proceed and build the mast.

The spokesman could not confirm when the work will start, but said Orange was keen to proceed, because the site has deemed planning consent for a mast.


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