Blooming row over hanging baskets

They are nowhere near as impressive as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, but the hanging baskets of Fakenham are creating something of a talking point of their own - thanks to council red tape.

They are nowhere near as impressive as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, but the hanging baskets of Fakenham are creating something of a talking point of their own - thanks to council red tape.

When brackets for the baskets were attached to more than 50 properties in the town in 2004 for the launch of a campaign to brighten up the environment, North Norfolk District Council granted listed building consent for 21 of them for a temporary period of just three years.

Now that time has run out and the town council has had to apply 21 times to keep the simple metal fixings in place, creating a mammoth task for a handful of volunteers who have had to submit at least eight pages of paperwork with each - even down to detailed drawings of the brackets with measurements to the last millimetre, as well as photographs of them in

place on the various different buildings.

Janet Holdom, town councillor and founder of the Fakenham in Bloom project, has been co-ordinating the process with three other volunteers and said it was a "waste of time and taxpayers' money".

"Of course, I would rather not have to do it," she said. "But I have to comply with the requirements. The application itself has not cost anything, but each one has to include four pages of forms which have to be copied in quadruplicate. It has taken a lot of time, probably about 25 man hours at least just on this."

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She said she has asked planners at the district council to consider granting the new applications in perpetuity, in line with other consents, with the necessary terms and conditions.

"This only applies to the listed buildings - there are actually more than 50 properties affected - but it is only the 21 listed buildings that need the permission which I feel is inconsistent," she said.

"I have also discovered that while I have had to apply for permission for two brackets on the front of Boots the Chemist, four brackets put up in 2003 were given permanent consent. Where is the consistency in that? Somewhere between 2003 and 2004 the rules changed."

"I understand there are regulations but to have to do it every three years is a waste of volunteers' time and taxpayers' money, not to mention the environmental impact of all the paperwork," she added.

Chris Thomas, who owns Fakenham Heel Bar in Oak Street, has two baskets on the outside of the shop.

He said: "I asked the council if I would have to reapply for the baskets and they told me it would cost £135, but if the council applies it is free. But money has been spent on advertising, administration and the time it took for someone to come round to every building to take a photograph of it. The time and money spent on this is an utter waste."

A spokesman for North Norfolk District Council said the initial consent was temporarily granted because there were concerns about the "proliferation of structures attached to listed buildings which could affect the character and appearance of the area".

He said: "This enabled the authority to make an assessment over time,

but with the new applications the officer has indicated that he would

be inclined to grant permanent consent."

The cost to the council of advertising the applications in the press has been estimated at £350, plus officer time and administration which he was unable to calculate.