Fenland Council denies special treatment given to developer over enforcement on turbine site

Special Report FENLAND District Council denied special treatment was given to the late Fenland councillor Peter Skoulding who escaped enforcement action after archaeologists were thrown off the site of the Longhill wind turbine at March. It is not true t

Special Report

FENLAND District Council denied special treatment was given to the late Fenland councillor Peter Skoulding who escaped enforcement action after archaeologists were thrown off the site of the Longhill wind turbine at March.

"It is not true that Cllr Skoulding was given any special treatment," said a council spokesman. "We have acted entirely correctly in line with our external legal advice."

However an investigation by this newspaper has discovered that Fenland District Council refused time and again to insist that Councillor Skoulding, and his company Snowmountain Enterprises, complete vital archaeological work.

And we've also discovered that eight years after consent was first given for the wind turbine to be built at Longhill, the council has still not resolved archaeological conditions.

"Unfortunately matters have inevitably been delayed because of the prolonged period of ill health and recent death of Cllr Skoulding, who was a director of Snowmountain, the company to whom the planning permission was granted. However we are committed to concluding this matter as quickly as possible."

Most Read

Our investigations reveal that although the bulk of the archaeological work was undertaken, there was concern by Cambridgeshire County Council that the developer employed by Snowmountain had authorised the removal of archaeologists from the site twice in 2005. It was the fact that the works were not completed which led to artefacts being lost "through accelerated decay, which is a clear breach of the planning condition".

Our inquiries discovered meetings between the officials and political leaders of both Cambridgeshire County Council and Fenland District Council to broker a deal but without success.

On September 25 last year district and county councillor Fred Yeulett, deputy leader of Fenland Council and portfolio holder for enforcement, proposed a meeting between leaders of both councils and legal representatives to resolve matters. The meeting never took place because of difficulties in getting those needed to a meeting.

We have also obtained correspondence between senior legal officers at Cambridgeshire County Council which allege Fenland District Council did not include documents on their public files which relate to the aborted works.

Fenland District Council denied this and said "the suggestion that any documents had been removed from public files was based on a misunderstanding." This was accepted by the county council.

"There has been no mishandling or removal of documents from the planning file which is the public domain," said the spokesman. He said this was explained fully to the county council and letters querying missing files were written "before the misunderstanding was cleared up". Some correspondence is retained in a parallel legal file, not in the public domain.

In a letter obtained by this newspaper, a senior legal executive from the county council says that "none of the requests from this authority for enforcement of the condition that have been made over the past few years are on the case file."

The legal executive also pointed out to Fenland Council that their failure to implement the archaeological conditions for Longhill broke with convention.

She said the precedent set by the Longhill Road site "would have serious consequences for the protection of the historic environment and is contrary to Fenland District Council's policy on archaeology."

And in another letter to Fenland Council she said the issue threw up "the obvious question of why is the condition being interpreted differently in this case?"

She referred to sites in Stonald Road, Whittlesey, 8a New Road, Chatteris, Cedar Close, March and New Inn Yard, Wisbech, where both councils had worked to discharge archaeological conditions.

We have also been shown copies of an email from the county council's former head of governance, in which he expresses his view that the county "were very worried about the precedent that this set for other development sites as the approach adopted ran contrary to previous practices".

Freedom of Information requests were sent to both councils this week by this newspaper asking for complete copies of all correspondence in this matter since planning approval for the �2 million wind turbine was given.

The evidence obtained so far shows Cambridgeshire County Council's growing disquiet over the delays to implementing archaeological conditions.

A county council spokesman said they could not explain why Fenland has chosen not enforce the Snowmountain archaeological condition.

"We can't do anything about it," said the spokesman.

The county council said they were fearful of the precedent now set by Fenland Council since it had been established custom and practice that archaeological conditions were enforced by the planning authority.

"We felt the issue over the Longhill site was sufficiently important to make representations to Fenland Council," said a spokesman. "What I can't comment on is why Fenland District Council chose not to do anything."

The county's legal team also claimed other correspondence in respect of a bat study for the site - again part of the original conditions- was also missing.

Among documents on the public files at Fenland Hall is a letter dated March 27, 2007, from Emma Grimma, threatening legal action against Snowmountain for not paying on time monies due under a section 106 agreement for the wind turbine.

A hand written note at the top says "letter was never sent- Tim Mills (the council's then head of planning) did not allow it".

Fenland Council confirmed this week that the money was paid and the letter never sent.