Animal charity told a crucial planning application is 'proper whack' after council error – Third Sector

08 September 2021 by Stephen Delahunty
A testing blunder has resulted in the application being incorrectly refused – but it is legally binding, meaning the local authority must spend thousands overturning the decision
An administrative error has left council bosses red-faced after an animal sanctuary’s planning application was mistakenly refused and it was told its “proposal is whack”.
An investigation is underway after officers for Mid Kent Planning Support team, which handles the online submissions on behalf of Swale Borough Council, accidentally published a dummy refusal decision notice while testing software. 
The Happy Pants Ranch charity had made a retrospective planning application to stay on its site in Bobbing, near Sittingbourne, Kent.
The proposal included a change of use of land from agricultural to animal rescue, small animal houses and the stationing of a mobile caravan for use as a residential unit by staff. 
But the council blunder meant the charity received a refusal notice that said “your proposal is whack” and “no mate, proper whack”. 
Amey James, founder of the charity, said she “flew into a panic” when she saw the refusal notice because an unsuccessful application could cause the charity “to lose everything”.
She said the charity would be left about £50,000 out of pocket and approximately 450 animals would need a new home if permission was refused.
The local authority said the dummy decisions were removed from the site after it was alerted to the mistake, but legal advice has subsequently found that they are legally binding and must be overturned before the correct decisions are made.
The mistake is set to cost the council about £8,000 to fix.
The quickest legal way to deal with the issue would be to use the judicial review process to have the decisions quashed, said the council, which could take up to three months. 
The local authority said four other organisations were also caught up in the error and it was continuing to talk to each of the applicants as the matter progressed.
The leader and deputy leader of SBC said they were angered and frustrated that an administrative error by staff working in the Mid Kent shared planning service had led to the issuing of false planning decision notices.
Labour councillor Roger Truelove and independent councillor Mike Baldock said: “This is not the first serious problem following the transfer of our planning administration to Mid Kent shared services.
”In addition to the incorrect decisions, some of the dummy text used to test the software was not appropriate for publication, including derogatory comments about the quality of the applications. 
“This language was used by a junior officer with no knowledge of any of the applications, who believed they were working solely in a test environment and that the comments would never be published.”
James said the charity had been waiting on a decision from the council since July.
She said: “Obviously the comments are quite laughable.
“I thought this was going to go to the planning committee in September, but now because of this, it’s probably going to be delayed even further.
“At this rate, we are probably not going to know by Christmas. It’s just awful not knowing.”
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