Residents take Hounslow Council to Ombudsman

No signals to show mobile phone masts row is abating

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A furious row has broken out between a local residents' group and Hounslow Council over the contents of an Ombudsman's report into the siting of a mobile phone mast.

The Linden Gardens Concerned Residents Group are claiming that the report effectively finds the Council guilty on four counts of maladministration, a claim that Hounslow vehemently denies. 

The disagreement began when mobile phone giant, Vodafone, received permission from Hounslow Council to site a cluster of phone masts on the roof of Chiswick Police Station.  Residents of Linden gardens were so incensed by how the council handled the planning application, they took them to the Commission for Local Administration in England resulting in a year long investigation into the matter.  

According to the residents, the government Ombudsman found Hounslow Council guilty of at least four counts of maladministration.   In a six page report that was sent to the protesting residents of Linden Gardens, Ombudsman Investigator David Mathieson stated that the Council’s original consultation letter was wrong which led to confusion. In conceding the Borough’s errors, including losing key documents and not preparing the application for CAC review, he also found that a Borough Planning Officer was guilty of failing to reply to emails from residents and Councillors, and the “Council’s administrative practices were not as they should have been”.  Mathieson’s report also revealed Hounslow planning department’s alleged complete disregard for the views of residents and Councillors. 

In a letter to the council, Councillor Adrian Lee stated that "he had been effectively ‘disenfranchised’ by the irresponsible actions of non-elected officers".

The actions of the Borough Planning Officer under investigation subsequently led to the Vodafone mobile phone masts application being ‘waved through’ under ‘permitted development orders’, rather than being discussed and voted on by the Chiswick Councillors.

John Hammond, member of the Linden Gardens Concerned Residents’ Group said, “Hounslow Council should rescind the order and let our Councillors decide – not just accept the decision of a non-elected officer. If the Vodafone installation goes ahead, it will be a massive eyesore on the High Road and for nearby residents – not to mention the 3G health issues. We remain firmly against the use of public property in this manner.”

However Hounslow Council refute the residents' claims.  A council spokesperson said “While the claims from the Linden Gardens Concerned Residents’ Group are interesting, we do not recognise, and more importantly, the Ombudsman does not recognise them to be a record of the findings of the Ombudsman in relation to the Vodafone telecommunications mast application.

“We are unsure as to where the Residents’ Group has obtained the information for the release which, even with the most generous interpretation, is completely misinformed in some areas and highly exaggerated in others.  The Ombudsman has not made any findings of Maladministration against the Council. The investigator did identify some minor areas of concern, which the Council has taken on board and already rectified.

“Although the residents submitted compensation claims for £43 million, the Ombudsman’s recommendation was to pay £150. This included £100 for the time and trouble of pursuing the complaint; £25 for the delay in sending out the consultation letter; and £25 for the delay in responding to emails.  The findings were outlined in a letter to the Resident’s Association; no formal report was made, and the case has now been closed."

He concluded “The Local Government Ombudsman is not a court of law. The role of the Ombudsman is to inform and educate councils, and we welcome any findings that will help us to improve our systems and processes.”

Hilary Pook, a Manager at the Local Government Ombudsman's Office, told "I can confirm that the Ombudsman has dealt with a complaint from this residents group, but this issue has been settled locally with the Council and therefore no public report has been published. Given that there is no public report, there is very little information available.   However, I can confirm that the Ombudsman did find some fault by the Council. This fault is remedied by the local settlement agreed by the Council.

No further action can be taken to force Hounslow Council to revoke the approval given to Vodafone.  A subsequent application by Orange for further mobile phone masts on the same site has recently been denied by the CAC.

December 15, 2005