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Cheshire East guilty of maladministration

 

A devastating report by the Ombudsman has found that Cheshire East Council knowingly and persistently misled the public. The Council also withheld information from the public and backdated documents on its website, apparently in an attempt to cover up.

 

During the Ombudsman’s investigation the Council continued to deny that it had backdated documents. Only when the Ombudsman presented proof that the dates on the Council’s website were not the dates on which the information had been posted did the Council admit that the documents had been uploaded onto the website after the consultation had closed.

 

The case was brought after the Council approved a change of use application for land at White Moss Quarry on the outskirts of Alsager. The same site has now been added as a possible site for up to 1,000 houses in the latest Cheshire East Council Local Plan consultation.

 

The Ombudsman lists 5 further examples of maladministration in the actual weighing of evidence and the handling of the application.

 

 

Cllr Sam Corcoran, Labour Councillor for Sandbach Heath & East said,

“This ruling gives clear evidence of dishonesty by Cheshire East staff in backdating documents uploaded onto the Cheshire East website so that it appeared that they were available during a consultation when in fact they were not. It is outrageous that the truth was only admitted at the end of the enquiry when the Ombudsman presented proof that dates on the website were wrong.

The concern must now be that this is not an isolated incident. I know that false information was given to the planning committee over the application to build houses off Hassall Road in Sandbach. The planning officer’s report stated that the development met 11 out of 15 sustainability criteria, when in fact it only met 5. In that case the views of 5,500 letters of objection were over-ridden and the application was approved by Cheshire East Council, despite Labour councillors voting against.”

 

Cllr Janet Jackson, Labour Councillor for Macclesfield Central, said

“This Ombudsman ruling will cause many people to question the integrity of the planning process in Cheshire East. The Council must act swiftly and decisively to address these concerns.”

 

Local Government Ombudsman, Dr Jane Martin, said:

“I am deeply concerned about the council’s administrative and decision making processes in this case. The application was flawed and should not have been considered in the first instance, but despite that, it gave alarmingly significant weight to the applicant’s own testament regarding the previous use of the site.

“What is more concerning, however, is the council’s failure in its duty to properly consult with the community during the process – and the apparent attempt to cover up the error.”

 

 

Extracts from the Ombudsman report,

 

"To have knowingly and persistently misled the public was maladministration."

 

"The Council’s failure to make the full statutory record, either paper or electronic,

available to the public was maladministration."

 

"Not until it received a draft of my investigation report, explaining how it could be proved that the dates on the Council’s website were not the dates on which the information had been posted, did the Council concede that the statutory declaration had, in truth, been posted on 5 December 2011 and the aerial photograph on 1 December – both after the public consultation period had ended."

 

"The decision was taken under delegated powers. It should have been checked by a senior officer. It was maladministration for so many elementary mistakes to go undetected by the senior officer to whom Members of the Council had entrusted their powers."

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