Council steps back from action

Date:

05/05/2004

Source:

This is Herefordshire

Matter:

Brierley Court Strawberries

Council chiefs were poised to take action against unauthorised development at the controversial village for foreign strawberry pickers near Leominster but pulled back.

Officials under fire for allegedly allowing a developer to ride roughshod over planning procedures were 'minded that an enforcement notice should be prepared and issued' according to correspondence seen by the Hereford Times.

Herefordshire Council was preparing action on April 6 - the day a group from the area planning committee was visiting the muddy rain-lashed site on West Field Brierley where 300 caravans roads and amenity buildings are being sited.

Councillors arrived expecting 'the customary charm offensive' common on site visits. They were surprised when the developer made no concessions for the meeting as noisy work continued.

At the council HQ senior litigator Mike Jones wrote to a solicitor acting for objectors to say he was drafting an enforcement notice. Mr Jones said he would keep the solicitor Richard Buxton informed. Nothing more was heard on the issue.

Insisted

This week as council chiefs insisted they were in control of events surrounding development of the ring-fenced camp for 1 000 workers they told a Hereford press conference why enforcement action was ruled out.

They revealed there were council discussions with the developer Marden-based strawberry growing giant S & A Produce from last July.

"The process has been managed by the local authority throughout " said planning chief Jonathan Barrett.

The aim was 'to ensure the council had control over the totality of the operation'.

After the project went ahead without planning permission the council served a planning contravention notice mainly to gain information about land ownership and as 'a shot over the bows' of the developer said Mr Barrett. Potentially it was a preliminary step to enforcement action.

No action

Council solicitor Marie Rosenthal explained why there would be no action. She said much of the work taking place including siting caravans and road building was permitted development and the entire project was agriculture-related. "It would be different if the developer was building a tower block.

"Against this background we don't think it is reasonable for us to go in and stop work when there is a planning application for a decision in a few weeks."

Objectors' group the Arrow Valley Residents Association slammed 'council spin and posturing'.

Spokesman Aubrey Greene said: "Herefordshire Council is concerned only with public perception rather than the reality of what is unfolding in open countryside outside Leominster."

D-Day for Brierley is May 12 when the area planning committee will make a decision. Mr Greene claimed there was 'mounting discontent' over unauthorised work taking place before the decision.

"It is apparent that the council is unable to afford enforcement to stop unauthorised works proceeding or afford a lengt