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Secret report reveals ‘injustice’ for family who complained about council farm

PUBLISHED: 17:53 01 April 2018 | UPDATED: 18:14 01 April 2018

Norfolk County Council was criticised by the local government watchdog over its handling of one county farm. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Norfolk County Council was criticised by the local government watchdog over its handling of one county farm. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Neighbours have put up with the “injustice” of noise from a wood yard next to their home for years after a council allowed one of its tenants to illegally turn a farm into a wood processing plant, according to a leaked report.

Watchdog, the Local Government Ombudsman, has slammed Norfolk County Council for letting the tenant use its land for wood processing, the confidential report seen by this newspaper reveals.

In response, the tenant said he had processed wood on the land since the early 2000s without complaint and everything was above board with the business. He said neighbours close to the yard had never complained.

But other neighbours have been complaining since early 2016.

It was one of 17 complaints made that year to the council about the way its 16,000 acre estate, known as county farms, was run.

In response to concerns, the council brought in auditors who published a report in 2016 damning the way county farms was operating.

The council changed the way it ran county farms after that report, but the changes did not lead to any resolution for neighbours of the wood yard in a village in the Great Yarmouth area.

The ombudsman ruled in the report last October the council’s actions had caused an “injustice” for the neighbours.

It gave the council three months to find a solution, but it has not found one yet.

The ombudsman found the council granted the tenancy “without going through the correct process and failed to act on breaches of the tenancy”.

It ruled the council “failed to act appropriately as a landlord and let the breaches continue for many years”.

“The council’s fault has led to an injustice for Mr and Mrs B,” it said. “They are living next to a wood yard which uses chainsaws, wood processors and other equipment such as JCBs to process and move the wood on the site.

“They say they are subjected to almost continuous noise and are no longer able to use their own property in peace.”

The council apologised and agreed with the ombudsman in October last year it would try to persuade the tenant to move to another site.

The neighbours did not wish to comment.

•What the tenant says

The ombudsman found that because the council had allowed the tenant to use the land illegally for so long it made it more difficult to remove him.

The tenant has also obtained permission from Great Yarmouth Borough Council to use the site as a logging business, meaning it is now being used legally.

The council is now trying to reach an agreement with the tenant to move his business.

The ombudsman gave the council three months to do that but the tenant said that was “impossible”.

“Not once during this has the ombudsman come to me,” he said. “There is no way I can shift 1,000 tonnes of wood in three months.”

He said he would move when the council gave him a suitable site. “It takes time,” he added. “This is going to be resolved. I want it to be as I’m fed up with it. I’m trying to run a business.”

He said council environmental health officers had inspected the site and not upheld noise complaints.

•County farms controversy

This is not the first time the council’s management of its farm estate has attracted controversy.

A report by auditors in 2016 found “key issues that need to be addressed” with the way the council ran the estate.

It found the county farms’ board lacked transparency and conflicts of interests were not identified, meaning there was a “risk of fraud or corruption”.

Auditors came up with 53 recommendations and the council said by September last year 29 had been put in place. Another 20 were in progress and four were agreed for no further action.

A follow up audit is scheduled for 2018/19.

A council spokesman said: “In September Norfolk County Council acquired Bank House Farm, a productive arable farm in west Norfolk.

“This was a further step towards future-proofing the County Farms estate and offers huge lettings potential as it has appeal to both established and up-and-coming farmers.”

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