Harpenden homeowner’s frustration at planning delay

A HOMEOWNER unable to complete a sale on his property due to a five-month delay in a decision on a minor planning application has been left out of pocket by thousands of pounds because of the fiasco.

As revealed in this week’s Harpenden edition of the Herts Advertiser, John Tuck has slammed the district council’s planning team for the change in procedure which has apparently caused the application for his former home in Redbourn Lane, Harpenden, to have gone undecided for so long.

Although a sale on the �1.9 million property was agreed last year, planning permission for a small conservatory, alterations to the roof line of a utility room and the conversion of a garden store was a prerequisite for completion.

When Mr Tuck, 66, submitted the application last year he was told a decision would be made by December 6 in line with the eight week government guideline for a decision on applications.

But five months later it has not been dealt with despite numerous phone calls and letters sent to the planning department.

He needed to sell his Redbourn Lane home of 25 years for his retirement and to pay for refurbishment work carried out ahead of the sale and he is currently living in a rented property in Ashley Road, St Albans, awaiting the proceeds from the house to come through so that he can downsize.

But the hold-up has lost him �260 in interest per day alone since the anticipated April 11 completion date, not to mention continuing council tax payments of �300 per month on the property and the rent on the St Albans house he is currently occupying.

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Mr Tuck said: “My house has been sold, a contract agreed, a deposit paid and the house is now past building completion. However, the absence of planning approval for the alterations means that we cannot complete the sale. We urgently need a decision. This is literally costing thousands.”

He has been told that since his application was submitted, management consultants overhauled the council’s planning system which has resulted in a change in procedure for making decisions but he does not believe the changes should have been applied retrospectively.

He continued: “Surely the whole point of the process would have been to get applications through more quickly but clearly that’s not working.

“It does make you think: what was the advice and what was the goal? I’ve been a management consultant in the past and if I didn’t get results I didn’t get paid.”

Mr Tuck added: “What I do not know is whether I am being singled out or if this is happening to hundreds of people. What makes the ‘new procedures’ even more ridiculous is that because this in-ordinate delay was due to ‘faster new procedures’ we submitted a new application just for the roof line in order to check how well the new faster procedures were working. It has been four weeks and receipt of the applications has not even been registered.”

A spokesperson for St Albans district council said that no comment on the individual case could be made due to data protection rules but explained: “In 2010 we received a steep rise in applications and this rise continues. This, combined with a reduction in overall resources, resulted in a backlog of applications which we were unable to determine within the eight week target deadline.

“For these reasons the council implemented a new electronic planning process which has been rolled out gradually whilst officers receive training, and at the same time worked with the old system to clear the backlog.

“There has been a delay in processing some applications, particularly those received during the change over to the new system.”

She added: “The long term aim is to eliminate delays on planning applications and we hope that the backlog will be cleared soon. We apologise for any delays and are doing all we can to improve our service levels.”