In court - November

28th October 2016


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  • Local government ,
  • Management ,
  • Legislation ,
  • Pollution & Waste Management

Author

Peter Edwards

A round-up of the latest court cases, including Plymouth City Council and Scottish Water Horizons.

The Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) has reminded local authorities in England that its powers are on a par with those of the High Court. The warning came after Plymouth City Council ignored recommendations made by the LGO after errors made by its planning officers.

An investigation by the LGO into complaints by two separate homeowners about mistakes made by city planners when approving a second application on an uncultivated field uncovered a series of failures. It found that officers had failed to publicise the new application properly in the neighbourhood and to ask the Environment Agency for a flood risk assessment. They had also included the wrong plans in the report to the planning committee and had significantly misrepresented how the new proposals would affect neighbours.

Both homeowners reported that their properties were prone to flooding because of inadequate consideration of drainage of surface water from the site, while the construction of a new two-storey house overlooked one of them.

A report on the case by the LGO concluded that the council had been obstructive and had challenged the ombudsman’s findings. It also noted that the council had had various opportunities to acknowledge the errors made by its officers but had refused to do so or to follow the recommendations made. Local Government Ombudsman Dr Jane Martin said: ‘The role of the LGO to hold councils to account when they get things wrong is well established and has a statutory basis. Authorities can and do have the chance to comment on LGO decisions before they are finalised, including providing evidence if they wish to challenge the findings, but they should co-operate with the investigation process.’

The council has been asked to apologise to both householders, pay both families £500 compensation and the difference between the valuation of the properties before and after the new development was built. It has also been told to ensure adequate drainage is in place before winter and to arrange for all members of its planning committee to have at least one day’s training from qualified and independent planning professionals so that they can challenge planning officers’ views before taking decisions.

Fines on companies total £3.6m

The Environment Agency has revealed that businesses in England were fined a total of £3.6m in 2015 for environmental offences. At the same, the agency said changes to how it regulates had saved businesses £32m in the 2015-16 financial year, against a target of £20m.

It has also reported that serious pollution incidents across England had fallen by 56% since 2000, with a 19% decline between 2014 and 2015. The agency said the results indicated that regulated businesses were becoming more environmentally responsible. Statistics from the agency also reveal that total greenhouse-gas (GHGs) emissions from companies had declined by 24% since 2000, while methane emissions from the landfill sector had fallen by 61% since 2002.

In the 12 months to the end of March 2016, emissions to air from the businesses regulated by the agency declined further, with GHGs falling 10%, nitrogen oxides down 15%, and sulphur dioxide 23% lower. Other data in three business reports from the agency revealed a 20% fall in the number of poor performing sites between 2014 and 2015, with 97% of regulated sites were rated satisfactory or above.

Odour incurs £26,000 penalty

Scottish Water Horizons, the renewables technology arm of Scottish Water, has been fined £26,000 at Airdrie Sheriff Court. The firm had pleaded guilty to five charges of failing to comply with the conditions of its pollution prevention and control permit for its Deerdykes Composting and Organics Recycling facility during 2012.

Officers from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency investigating complaints from nearby residents found that equipment designed to treat odorous air was not performing adequately.

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