LEADER of Chichester District Council Heather Caird has been accused by her furious new neighbours of flouting planning laws.
She and her husband Joseph Baker wanted to add two bedrooms and two bathrooms in the roof of their bungalow after buying their new home in Tillington.
There were no objections from the parish council or neighbours to the original plans and they were granted permission by Chichester District Council.
But when the extension began to take shape, angry neighbours said it bore no resemblance to the original plans.
Despite protests, the work continued and Mr Baker was forced to ask for retrospective planning permission which was listed as a ‘revised scheme of permitted application’.
The district council has now given the leader and her husband permission for the work carried out contrary to their planning permission despite objections from the parish council and neighbours.
But there was discomfort among some members of the planning committee who felt they should look at the extension before making their decision.
Cllr Gordon McAra’s proposal was seconded by Cllr John Elliott, but they were defeated by four votes to 12. The application was approved with ten voting in favour, three against and three abstentions.
Mrs Jane Welch echoed the sentiments of other neighbours in Westside when she objected to the retrospective plan.
“I don’t suppose Mr Baker will be made to adhere to his original plans, as after all we are just members of the general public who have to live with the consequences of other people flouting the rules and of planning officers not doing their job properly.”
She said the leader’s home was ‘a monstrosity on a rise towering above neighbouring properties’.
Departures from the original planning permission include an increased roof height. The dormer windows were approved as gabled, but have been built with hipped roofs and higher up the roof than shown on the plans. The position of the dormers and roof lights was altered during building and the approved glass conservatory turned into a brick room.
Mrs Welch said: “My husband and I have been very happy living here as part of the community but with our own privacy, now we have a huge house with enormous dormer windows staring down into our rooms, it is very distressing.”
Another neighbour, Rodney Woodhatch, objected, saying: “It is of serious concern to residents the applicant has confidently continued to build despite knowing the completed work does not conform to the council approved plans,
“In the past, other developments in this area have been refused planning consent on grounds which are similar to the objections now being raised.
“It is unfortunate, but residents feel this development has been treated differently when compared to other projects on this estate.”
Mr and Mrs G Thomas, who live next door to the leader, said their privacy had been ‘destroyed by this building which dominates our garden and has devalued our property’.
They added: “The original plan Mr Baker gave us bears little resemblance to the building now.”
Objecting to the revised plans, they added: “We can only assume the applicant was aware they had contravened the original approvals, but were only interested in completing the project as quickly as possible, knowing any retrospective planning application would probably be looked on favourably by the local authority as the building had been completed.”
Cllr Caird has admitted she should have been more aware of the building work as the extension went up at her new Tillington home.
But she told the Observer it was not unusual for designs to change after planning permission had been granted.
“It happens with a lot of planning applications which get permission and then things change and mistakes are made,” she said.
The planning system was designed, said Cllr Caird, so that there was a process through which applications such as this could be dealt with.
“Because I am leader of the council, my application had to go through stringent analysis and it had to go to the committee for a decision.”
She added: “I am acutely aware that I should have been more alert to the fact that this was happening, unfortunately I did not notice it and it has caused me extreme anguish.
“Unfortunately I got it wrong and I didn’t watch carefully enough.”
Her neighbours did not object to the first planning application, said Cllr Caird, and then noticed the roof was eight inches higher than planned.
It was not a deliberate flouting of the planning permission, she said.
“Then the windows had to be a certain distance from the roof ridge so they were put in to fit the ridge.”
She acknowledged the planning discrepancy had also caused her neighbours anguish and said she was very sorry.
“No-one wants to fall out with their neighbours,” she said, “and in fact we have already had discussions with a neighbour with that in mind and we have agreed we can put it behind us and move on.”