MORAY COUNCIL | A CASE STUDY IN LOCAL GOVERNMENT INCOMPETENCE, UNFAIRNESS AND DUBIOUS INTEGRITY


Moray Council

expedience

adjective: (of an action) convenient and practical although possibly improper or immoral

noun: a means of attaining an end, especially one that is convenient but possibly improper or immoral

What’s This Post About?

This post is a story about the competence (or otherwise) and questionable probity of a local government authority, Moray Council; my own local government authority in fact. It’s a story about what happens when the state applies a policy of ‘expediency’ as an excuse for behaving improperly or incompetently or both, whilst dressing up its actions as pragmatism.

It’s about what happens when the state gets its priorities wrong, fails to uphold the law, sides with a transgressor and creates the running sore of a chronic neighbour dispute. This story is a practical example of why I’m a Libertarian; specifically, why I’m permanently suspicious of the workings of the state – in this case the state in the guise of my local government authority, Moray Council.

Let’s Make Up Our Own Rules

Once upon a time, 10 years ago in March 2008, my next-door neighbour – let’s call him Mr Steed (not his real name) – decided flagrantly and systematically to flout both planning and building regulations.

I live on the coast and my home overlooks the Moray Firth and beyond to the mountains of Wester Ross. My rear gardens are surrounded by a 2-metre-high ancient stone garden wall on three sides of a square; my home itself forms the fourth side of the square.

On his side of the south boundary wall of my rear gardens my neighbour, Steed, took it upon himself one day to build a crude, breeze-block retaining wall, without engineering design or a Building Warrant. Steed created a new site of about 100 metres square or so. Our land is contiguous, so my south boundary wall formed the north boundary wall of Steed’s new site.

Steed then proceeded to tip debris, earth, sand and other crappy materials into his newly-formed ‘box’ enclosed by the crude retaining wall. Now, you need a Building Warrant to build retaining walls, but you need a Building Warrant particularly if you intend to raise land for development by two metres or more. Notwithstanding, and without a Building Warrant, Steed raised his site by two metres, right up to the very top of my south boundary garden wall.

Although not clear to me at the time, Steed’s intention was to position two static caravans on his unauthorised raised site.

Static Caravan

So, I was faced with the prospect of having a couple of monstrosities like the thing you see pictured above, perched at the top of my 2-metre-high rear garden wall, directly overlooking my gardens and into the private rooms at the rear of my home.

Moray Council’s Response

When it became clear to me that Steed was up to no good, I informed Moray Council’s Planning Department. The Planning Department is concerned with regulating and enforcing all matters to do with the law pertaining to the development of land and buildings, and the regulations regarding how buildings are constructed. The Planning Department did nothing.

After nearly two months of Steed’s works being progressed, patently in breach of planning and building regulations, again I informed Moray Council. The Planning Department did nothing.

Now, bear in mind that Steed was a local businessman; he owned the caravan park next to my home. He employed a few people. His caravan park brought visitors to the village and the beautiful coastal area where I live. At the time I wondered if perhaps the Planning Officers (the Council officials who deal with planning and building matters) felt that Mr Steed merited being left alone? After all, Steed was good for the local economy and I was just one pesky neighbour who might be considered dispensable. Now, I don’t know if this was in fact the Planning Officers’ party line, but I do know that they were moribund when I had pointed out to them that Mr Steed appeared to be breaching planning and building regulations with a vengeance.

Involving The Court

Frustrated at Moray Council’s lack of interest in the matter, I went to see my lawyer. He said that there was indeed a prima facie breach of planning and building regulations taking place on the site. Therefore, I could raise what is known as an ‘interdict’ in the court. An interdict would have the court instruct Steed to cease and desist from what appeared to be his irregular behaviour, pending a proper investigation into what he was up to.

Immediately prior to lodging my interdict with the court, I informed Moray Council of my intentions. Suddenly, the Planning Department took an interest in what was happening on Steed’s site. After all, had the interdict been served on Steed, Moray Council would have been obliged to explain to the court what they were doing about the apparent breach of planning and building regulations (answer: nothing).

Fast-Forward

Now, you will not wish to read every detail pertaining to the subsequent years of Moray Council’s obfuscation, prevarication and incompetence, and what I consider to have been behaviour characterised as much as anything by a lack of probity; at best characterised by unprofessionalism. So, I’ll now run the story at Fast-Forward.

To this day, a decade after Steed proceeded to upfill his site without authority, the site remains raised to a height of two metres above garden ground level, without statutory approval (there is no stamped, approved Building Warrant for the site, nor does it have the benefit of planning permission) and directly overlooking my rear gardens.

Over the years – during which I have fought tenaciously to protect my perfectly reasonable rights to amenity, privacy and security – my case has been referred to Moray Council’s Planning Committee on numerous occasions; it has been referred to Scottish Government Ministers for adjudication on 4 occasions; my local Member of Parliament has taken an interest in the matter; it has been the subject of a Formal Complaint to Moray Council’s Chief Executive; there have been Planning Consultants and lawyers involved on Steed’s side and mine; the site has been the subject of a request for a Certificate of Lawful Use (rejected); the case has been referred to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman; and the case has been taken, by Steed, to the highest court in the land, the Court of Session in Edinburgh – who threw it out.

The Cost

The cost to me financially and emotionally throughout this fiasco has been significant. Goodness knows what the cost has been to Moray Council’s taxpayers.

During all the years of this imbroglio, and right from the start, Moray Council’s attitude to me, and its performance in handling what was always a slam-dunk example of a breach of planning and building regulations has been variously disingenuous, patronising and reprehensible. In fact, above all else, Moray Council’s behaviour has been inexplicable and unfathomable; which is why I have difficulty avoiding concluding that somebody or some people, somewhere in Moray Council’s Planning Department are either dishonourable or incompetent or both to the point of misconduct. Moray Council would argue furiously against this allegation of course and have done so in the past when I’ve accused them of acting out of fear of, or favouritism towards Steed, the transgressor. However, I’ve always made such observations on the basis of the circumstantial evidence.

As my Planning Consultant is on record as observing, ‘it is evident that [Moray Council’s Planning Officers] have done nothing to assist you over the past 10 years. In fact, they seem to have done everything within their powers to assist [Steed], so your frustration and anger is understandable’.

Scottish Government Involvement

In the case of the involvement of the Scottish Government, a person called a Reporter acts on behalf of Scottish Government Ministers. The role of the Reporter is to inspect the site in question, investigate the situation, weigh up the planning policies as they apply and then decide what should be done. The Reporter’s decisions are contained within a Decision Notice which is then served on the local government authority – Moray Council in this case.

In theory, the Reporter’s decision is final. In other words, a local government authority is expected to implement a Decision Notice.

In my case, in 2010, following an appeal against one of Moray Council’s Planning Committee decisions inimical to Steed’s dodgy intentions, a Reporter issued a Decision Notice regarding the unauthorised, raised site which included, amongst other observations and instructions, the following statements:

‘[The raised site] is a significant engineering operation outside the scope of [the law] …’

‘The [raised site] is oppressive …’

‘No reasonable planning authority would knowingly approve caravan stances 2 metres higher than residential rear gardens …’

‘[The raised site] is unreasonably detrimental to the amenity of the closest residents, restricting the enjoyment they might reasonably take from their rear gardens …’

‘The potential occupation of the raised ground by caravans, or even parked vehicles or plant threatens an unreasonable loss of general amenity and privacy in the adjacent rear gardens and through certain windows …’

Removal of both [the retaining] wall and the ground upfilling are, therefore, fully justified …’

You see, the point is that Scottish Government Ministers instructed Moray Council to arrange for the taking down of the unauthorised, raised site. But Moray Council’s Planning Officers had other ideas; which makes me wonder if they were acting with probity? Why else would they have flown in the face of Scottish Government Ministers’ instructions? Well, the Planning Officers would say for reasons of ‘expediency’: remember, that’s an action which is convenient and practical, although possibly improper or immoral. Expediency is a very useful policy in situations like this; it’s a gift to state bureaucracy.

Let’s Favour The Transgressor

Remaining in Fast-Forward mode, in the years since that seminal Decision Notice, Moray Council has managed successfully to circumvent implementing those particular Reporter’s decisions. To be specific the Council’s Planning Officers, for reasons of ‘expediency’, have worked tirelessly to prevent the unauthorised, raised site from being taken down. Their view, I believe, is that it would have been disproportionate or unfair to have Steed take down the site that he’d put up; a site that Steed had no legal right to put up in the first place.

Steed fought hard at every stage to have his unauthorised site granted statutory approval: he applied for retrospective planning permission (rejected by the Council’s Planning Committee); on more than one occasion he appealed to the Scottish Government (hence the Reporters’ visits); he defied Enforcement Notices (which is illegal) and was, therefore, subject to Stop Notices; he appealed against other Moray Council decisions; he appealed against Scottish Government Minister’s Decision Notices and he took the matter to the Court of Session; he even engaged in a campaign of vindictive planting of Leylandii all along the south boundary wall of my rear gardens. Steed was bitterly determined to get his own way.

As far as I’m concerned, Steed was a bandit, an outlaw. Clearly, Moray Council’s Planning Officers didn’t see Steed in the same light. Indeed, the evidence suggests that the Planning Officers saw Steed rather more as the victim in this situation, to be protected as far as possible from the cost of righting his own wrong. I got the impression, and still have it, that the irritating Mr Moraymint could go to hell.

Regrading Of The Site

For reasons that have never been explained to me, Moray Council’s Planning Officers bent over backwards to accommodate Steed; they went through contortions to circumvent or tone down Planning Committee decisions, to subvert the will of elected councillors, to point out to me that any Council response had to be proportionate and, ultimately, they chose to avoid enforcing the original Reporter’s decision that the unauthorised, upfilled site and its retaining walls should be taken down in toto.

Presumably fearful of Steed’s persistently aggressive stance, the Council arranged for some trivial ‘regrading’ of the site which, in fact, meant the site remained upfilled and capable of taking caravans, vehicles and plant. To indicate the rank ineffectiveness of the Planning Officers’ decision notionally to comply with the relevant Decision Notices, ie by having the site ‘regraded’, take a look at these photographs of the site …

When I’ve challenged Moray Council in the past, as I have done with monotonous regularity over 10 years, the Planning Officers argue that they’ve been ticking all the right boxes and it’s just too bad that the outcome of this case looks remarkably like they’ve feared or favoured the transgressor, Steed.

Neighbour Dispute

So, today the site remains upfilled to the top of my 2-metre-high ancient garden wall, without statutory approval.

The de facto position of Moray Council is that the upfilled site should remain for what it is: ie a raised site, albeit without any evidence of competent engineering design, held in place by crude, breeze-block retaining walls, without a Building Warrant, without a Certificate of Lawful Use, but a raised site nonetheless which, funnily enough, is ideally suited for the positioning of caravans, vehicles, plant or anything else the landowner chooses to plonk on it directly overlooking my rear gardens and into my home.

So, guess what? That’s what the current landowner does. You see, Mr Steed sold the caravan park complete with the unauthorised, raised site to Mr Burke (not his real name) a few years ago. Nowadays, Burke positions on the unauthorised, raised site a varying collection of caravans, vehicles and plant, like this …

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The result is precisely what Reporters said would be the result if the site remained raised: an unacceptable violation of my amenity, intrusion into the privacy of my rear gardens and the rear of my home and, as a consequence of the previous two violations, a risk to the integrity and security of my property.

Moray Council’s incompetence and extremely doubtful moral stance has fomented a chronic, decade-long neighbour dispute originally between Steed and me, and now between Burke and me.

Abuse

All I’ve ever requested was that Moray Council enforced planning and building regulations on the site in question, consistent with extant local and national policies, and in compliance with Decision Notices served on Moray Council on behalf of Scottish Government Ministers. However, the facts speak for themselves: an unauthorised, raised site without statutory approval remains to this day an unauthorised raised site without statutory approval, contiguous to my home. The site is, therefore, open to abuse by its owner and so, surprise, surprise, the site is abused by its owner.

In fact, not only is the site abused, but I’ve been abused too. Recently, Burke decided to go public with this matter on Facebook. On his caravan park page, he put up a picture of my home with a big, red ring around it. Anyone in my village could tell straight away that it was my house. Burke said that the house was the home of a vindictive neighbour (ie me) who should not have purchased a house next to a caravan park if he didn’t want to look at caravans. Burke accused me of being a NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) character who clearly merited being outed in public. So, every man and his dog weighed in making unkind comments about me in the way that only social media can bring out the worst in people. Hours later when I went to my village Post Office, the Postmaster told me that he and others had seen the Facebook comments and that it was now common knowledge, according to his customers, that I was the bad guy, the village pariah.

However loudly Moray Council’s Planning Officers bleat about how they’ve ticked all the right boxes (which is their stock response), the indisputable fact is that a cohort of Moray Council’s officials have buggered up spectacularly this Planning Enforcement case and in so doing have screwed me over royally. And do you know what? There’s absolutely nothing I can do about it. It’s an example, like I said right at the top of this post, of what happens when the state gets its priorities wrong, fails to uphold the law, sides with a transgressor and, in my case, creates the running sore of a chronic neighbour dispute. In situations like this, you realise just how impotent you are as an ordinary citizen when the state decides to screw you over.

Observations And Messages

So, the question is why have Moray Council’s Planning Officers consistently engineered matters to uphold the permanence of the unauthorised, raised site, despite having been instructed by Scottish Government Ministers to have the upfilled site taken down by the landowner, or to take it down themselves? Remember, the Reporter’s decision is final – unless you’re Moray Council, it seems.

What possible explanation could there be for such a contrary decision in the face of the raft of planning policies, third-party observations and Scottish Government decisions which provided Moray Council overwhelmingly with all the legal and moral force it ever needed to enforce planning and building regulations on the site? In other words, to have the site taken down.

God knows.

What I do know is this. Since 2008 I have learnt the hard way the following about the workings of the state in the form of my own local government here in Moray:

Power

First and foremost, Council officials rule the roost. Local councillors are window-dressing for democracy. In my case, councillors seemed to have had little understanding of their roles and responsibilities in this respect, not least of which is that Council officials should operate at the bidding of elected members and not vice versa. Whilst my local councillors seem to have had good intentions throughout this ordeal, they’ve been next to useless in reality. The Planning Officers have walked all over them. As one of my local councillors observed, ‘[Mr Moraymint] I’m sorry to say that you have been badly served by the Council’s officers’.

Arrogance

This observation links to the first one above. Often the tone of the correspondence I received from the Planning Department, in particular from the Head of Planning was one of arrogance. At one point I was told by the Head of Planning that, in effect, my arguments didn’t really count for much because Steed’s arguments had been put forward by ‘a well-known and highly respected planning consultant’. On another occasion, another Head of Planning (yes, this case has been going on for longer than people have been in jobs in Moray Council) told me that I was being selective about the facts of the case and so should, in effect, wind my neck in. The single most important and indisputable fact is, of course, that an unauthorised raised site remains to this day an unauthorised raised site thanks to the unfathomable decision-making and/or dubious morality of Moray Council’s Planning Department. Notwithstanding, the Head of Planning saw fit to reprimand me for playing fast-and-loose with the facts in my criticisms of his Department. Yeah, right.

Waste

My third observation relates to the staggering waste of taxpayers’ money associated with this case. Moray Council could have resolved this matter within a few weeks of the original transgression if it had so wished. The Council could have instructed Mr Steed to take down his unauthorised site. If Steed had failed to do so, Moray Council could have moved in and taken the site down itself and sent Steed an invoice. If Steed had refused to pay the bill, the Council could have taken him to court. Full-stop. Instead, 10 years later, the Council is still expending, ie wasting taxpayers’ money on this case. It’s extraordinary.

Then there’s the organisation which despatches Reporters on behalf of Scottish Government Ministers to situations like the one I’ve described here; it’s called the Planning & Environmental Appeals Division (PEAD). Whilst I’m generally content with the various findings and decisions of PEAD’s Reporters, PEAD itself is a toothless tiger. When I asked PEAD what it intended do about Moray Council’s pathological incapability to implement its Reporters’ decisions, I was told it was not a matter for PEAD but instead a matter for the democratic workings of the Council. PEAD had no way of enforcing the Decision Notices it issued. I was expected to rely on my local councillors to fight my corner – and a waste of time that proved to be.

Finally, second only to the pointlessness of complaining to Moray Council (which I did formally at one stage, but the Chief Executive saw fit to declare that his Planning Officers had performed impeccably) was to complain to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO). I raised a formal complaint to the SPSO along the lines of this blog post, but more detailed (can you believe it?) and backed up with all the relevant correspondence and associated details. The SPSO responded along the following lines:

‘Dear Mr Moraymint, we don’t understand the problem here. Moray Council’s officials have ticked all the boxes. If you don’t like the outcome, there’s nothing we can do about it. You’ll need to raise the matter through normal democratic channels by getting your local councillors to fight your corner. Yours etc, SPSO’.

And a waste of time that proved to be.

Questions To Moray Council’s Chief Executive

So, I’d like to end this lengthy post by posing a few questions to Moray Council’s Chief Executive whom I know is familiar with this case:

Do you stand by your Planning Officers’ decision to leave the unauthorised, raised site intact such that it continues to be ‘unreasonably detrimental to the amenity of the closest residents, restricting the enjoyment they might reasonably take from their rear gardens’ (the Reporter’s words)?

Do you stand by your Planning Officers’ decision to leave the unauthorised, raised site intact such that it continues to offer ‘the potential [to be occupied] by caravans, or even parked vehicles or plant threatening an unreasonable loss of general amenity and privacy in the adjacent rear gardens and through certain windows’ (again the Reporter’s words)? Take a look again at the photographs above to remind yourself, if that helps you to answer this question.

Do you feel that your Planning Officers have complied with the Reporter’s observation that ‘removal of both the retaining walls and the ground upfilling are fully justified’? Again, take a look at the photographs to see to what extent the upfilling and walls have been removed.

Have your Planning Officers at all times advised elected members on the letter and spirit of the above observations made by Reporters on behalf of Scottish Government Ministers to ensure that democracy is aligned with bureaucracy in Moray Council?

You see, if you answer ‘Yes’ to any or all of the above questions, then I wonder whether you should be in your job. In particular I have to question your moral fibre if you think that your officials have behaved competently, fairly and with probity in their handling of this case. If you close ranks and continue to back your Planning Department on this matter, then in my opinion you’re abrogating your responsibility as a Chief Executive.

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Corollary

In publicising my experiences of dealing with Moray Council’s Planning Department like this, I’ve endeavoured to keep my post as fair as possible – bearing in mind that I’m pretty frustrated at how the matter’s been handled this past 10 years. I don’t want to libel anybody; I’ve explained the facts as they are. In my view, the facts speak for themselves. Moray Council’s Planning Officers have in the past defended their actions to me and, indeed, have got terribly agitated from time to time (the Council doth protest too much methinks). But nobody from Moray Council has ever yet explained to me why the unauthorised, raised site was not taken down as it should have been in the first place.

Hiding behind ‘expediency’ doesn’t cut it. Expediency is just a convenient excuse for doing the wrong thing. The question for me is, ‘Why exactly did Moray Council’s Planning Officers consciously choose to do the wrong thing?’ On what basis did the Planning Officers decide that, on balance, it was better to favour Steed’s position than mine? What is the justification for, and planning merit of sustaining a breach of the regulations rather than enforcing the regulations and having the site taken down?

Throughout this lamentable episode Moray Council has always had the legal and moral high ground. Furthermore, Moray Council always had the resources, the superior firepower if you like, to fight Steed’s transgressions. Why did it not do so?

Today, it grieves me that I’m still on the receiving end of this nonsense thanks to Moray Council’s bizarre and highly questionable attitude to enforcing planning and building regulations in this instance. I don’t suppose I’ll ever get an explanation for this mess, still less any form of apology from the Council; even less chance of compensation. I imagine the chances of Moray Council ever having the unauthorised, raised site taken down are minuscule. That boat has long since sailed.

Consequently, the prospect for me henceforth will almost certainly be a kind of Groundhog Day existence; an interminable dispute with my neighbour, Burke, who will, I fear, repeatedly push his luck with exploiting the unauthorised, raised site; that much is inevitable it seems to me. Meanwhile, I’ll be forced to plead time and again with Moray Council to enforce the regulations, ie to prevent the positioning on the site of caravans, vehicles or plant to the detriment of my amenity, privacy and security.

In fact, the Head of Planning told me very recently that it was just too bad if Burke positioned stuff on the site; it’s Burke’s land and the Council can’t stop him from using it as a car park or a plant yard or a dump for spoil or whatever (all of which happens). The Head of Planning also told me that if people took advantage of the unauthorised, raised site to step on to and wander about on the top of my 2-metre-high garden wall – which is what some people do, usually children – then that was also too bad; I should see my lawyer about it.

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And around and around we go. Whilst it’s a nightmare for me it’s justification, of course, for the salaries of the Planning Officers and their Chief Executive as they go about ticking boxes. Salaries funded by my Council Tax and yours if, like me, you happen to live in Moray.

You can see now perhaps why I’m a Libertarian.

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Endnotes

  1. Assistance. If there’s a lawyer out there who knows of a course of action which would permit me to redress this situation, notwithstanding the long history of the case, please get in touch with me. I’d be fascinated to hear from you. I don’t have the resources to instigate a judicial review, by the way. If I did, I would have done so long before now. Is there anywhere to go here, or should I just accept that I’ve been roundly shafted by the state?
  2. Records. For 10 years, I’ve retained every single word of this case on file: every letter, every email, every off-the-record comment, a note of every telephone conversation, every photograph of the site. If anybody ever wanted to take me to task on this post, feel free; I’d eat you for breakfast.
  3. Caravan Park Improvements. I never wanted to be, nor do I want to be today in dispute with my neighbour. My dispute has always been with Moray Council. I’d like to go on record to say that Mr Burke has done a terrific job of renovating the caravan park since he purchased it from Mr Steed. He’s invested significantly in a range of high quality, good style improvements which is paying off. More people are coming to the caravan park to enjoy its spectacular location and to benefit the local economy. Despite the Facebook comments vilifying me, I like watching locals and tourists enjoy themselves in my beautiful village here by the sea; I’m very fortunate to live here. Good job, Mr Burke. It’s a shame that between us we’ve inherited such a wreck of a situation from Mr Steed, but mainly from Moray Council.
  4. What’s Your Experience? Finally, if you, dear reader, have had a bad experience with Moray Council’s Planning Department then please get in touch with me. Your case might merit the same exposure that I’ve given my case here today. It’s called freedom of speech.

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If you think Moray Council is quite within its rights to have performed as it has in this matter, then thanks for reading this far. Perhaps you could drop a line to Moray Council’s Chief Executive congratulating him on the sterling work of his Planning Department.

On the other hand, if you’re horrified by what you’ve read here, why not share this post with others on Facebook, or Twitter, or by email. The more that people get to know about situations like this, the more pressure is applied on incompetent and immoral state officials.

Thanks for reading anyway; have a great day.

 

35 comments

  1. Wilf Dixon · · Reply

    You must have seen Private Eye and its Rotten Boroughs page?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. moraymint · · Reply

      I’m familiar with Private Eye, but not that bit! Will take a look. Are you suggesting, sir, that I live in a Rotten Borough? Surely not …

      Like

  2. Mark Henderson · · Reply

    Hi M,
    It sounds like you have been through the mill on this and it sounds symptomatic of what we are seeing across all levels of government. The legal, moral and societal rights of the individual count for nothing and are merely an irritation for those that purport to govern us! The interests of the bully and the exploiter are favoured and even protected by the police – I have been following the undemocratic roll out of fracking in England – another example.

    It would be good to catch up with you face to face. In the meantime, are there any positives you can take from the process or any learnings you can leverage?

    Best wishes,
    Mark

    Liked by 1 person

    1. moraymint · · Reply

      Thanks Mark, good to hear from you.

      The idea of looking for some positives is a good one; I’m going to give that some thought.

      Where’s the best place to meet from your side? Email me – the address is at the top of the page on the right …

      Like

  3. Paul Dealwis · · Reply

    The people in power are a law unto themselves
    They are only concerned in what benefits them

    Liked by 1 person

    1. moraymint · · Reply

      Sadly, Paul, that pretty much sums up public service these days. Public servants serve themselves. It’s sad really and not good for our society …

      Like

  4. By the way, I’ve just read in today’s Times that Moray Council has the second worst council education record in Scotland, beaten only by Glasgow, so there’s something else that isn’t run too well by them, apparently.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. moraymint · · Reply

      Ha. Am I surprised? The Council is also heading to the wall financially. OK, I know so many other public sector organisations are in trouble (it’s called catabolic collapse, but that’ll be another post on here later), but Moray Council’s financial management has been atrocious over the years. The relationship between the elected members and the bureaucrats is dysfunctional (my case is a case in point). Personally, I lay most of the blame for this at the feet of the Chief Executive. He’s a lawyer by profession and couldn’t run a bath …

      I shall standby now to have my collar felt for impugning the Great Man …

      Like

  5. Moray, truly sorry to read this awful tale. About 12 yrs ago, when I was very actively involved in local politics in Southern England, a acquaintance wished to develop an unused and largely unusable piece of land in our Borough. He put in a professionally-handled proposal to make some fishing lakes, a nature preserve and a small cafe, plus a small house for himself.

    I won’t bore you with the whole tale, but the planning application just festered in the cellars of the Town Hall for months. When he told me of this, I contacted a Councillor I had known for years to investigate. After yet more months had gone by, I realised nothing was happening, and my acquaintance got to the point of wanting to give up. I then contacted a Councillor who had political ambitions and who owed me a favour, and after some weeks, the planning application was considered and approved, although I was never told the cause of the delays, even in confidence. The site is now a huge success both for the owners and the local community.

    I am very strongly of the belief that in this particular case, the complete lack of interest and dilly-dallying by Council Officers (I’m being polite here) was because my acquaintance is honest and did not offer to grease any palms.

    My advice would be to contact some radio/tv news programmes and ask if they were interested in making an item about your issue, rather than a local paper (which would not want to upset a possible local advertiser).

    May your arm remain strong in your fight!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. moraymint · · Reply

      Thanks sm, and an interesting story itself.

      From my side, I don’t hold the view that there has been corruption as such in my case here in Moray; not in the way you’ve referred to it in your comment. I just think that those involved at Moray Council have lacked any sort of moral compass in handling the matter. I’ve not asked nor expected anyone to favour my side of the case. I just wanted the Council to recognise the unequivocal findings of the Reporters and action them. It’s not ME that insisted the site be taken down; it was a Reporter acting on behalf of Scottish Government Ministers. He had no axe to grind.

      For the life of me, I can’t figure why the Planning Department seemed to be so unashamedly biased in favour giving Steed an easy ride. Such an easy ride that the end result is that absolutely nothing has happened. The site exists as it did when Steed finished it, without statutory approval. The site regularly has positioned on it caravans, vehicles, plant, debris and spoil – exactly the situation that the Reporter predicted if the site remain raised, and unacceptable on various counts of planning and building policies.

      I don’t think the guys in Elgin are corrupt in the sense that they were, or are taking bungs from people. I just think they can’t discern between right and wrong – which I find quite extraordinary. They don’t have the courage of their convictions, so they’ve pussy-footed about for 10 years. To my considerable cost. They’re institutionally gutless.

      All the best to you …

      Like

  6. Sorry to hear of your plight, I just wondered whether there is any scope in going to the Dept of Enviroment with respect to tipping of waste material (the fill used by Mr Steed), which by your description may be a pollutant. Public health issues cause the media to take note!

    Best of luck

    Brianh

    Liked by 1 person

    1. moraymint · · Reply

      Thanks, Brian. I’m logging all these sorts of suggestions to see what potential avenues of pursuit I may have …

      Like

  7. reallyoldbill · · Reply

    Sadly, MM, being English I know little about the intricacies of Scottish law. I expect, however, that just as in England, litigation is an expensive exercise and therefore inevitably biased in favour of the state and its agencies and against the ordinary citizen who finds himself subject to their decisions and whims; they will always have deeper pockets than you and me. All that said, it would appear from the sorry tale above that you have at the very least a case of misconduct in public office (and possibly – if such a thing exists in Scottish law – malfeasance) whereby you have suffered clear loss of privacy and enjoyment of your home, and if as I suspect to be the case a drop in the value of your property through this intrusion, financial loss as well. Is there no chance of finding a suitable counsel who would be willing to actpro bono for you in this disturbing case?

    Failing the chance to commence legal proceedings against your local council and its officers, perhaps you should try and interest the national Scottish press in the matter. Any sniff of official wrong doing or incompetence, and even more so potential corruption, is usually music to the ears of the media. At the very least you could thoroughly embarrass those responsible who rarely cherish anything more than their reputations. A challenge to their competence and even more so probity in such a public manner would almost certainly create a reaction of some sort.

    Although I am sure of little comfort to you, your situation is mirrored around the country with the rights of citizens, who after all are required to fund the authorities who are supposed to be their servants not masters, being steadily eroded by those same authorities, whether at Westminster, Holyrood or at parish level. I have been trying to contact my local councilors concerning a problem with illegal parking causing serious damage to the grass verges in my street for months; in the winter some sections resemble the Battle of the Somme. The local council officers have responded to complaints from me that they no longer enforce the law (the Highways Act) in respect of this offence and I want to know from my elected councilors why, and more importantly, who made the decision and by what authority. To date all e-mails have gone unanswered without even an acknowledgement. Two weeks ago I received an election flyer for the local May elections inviting me to contact the candidates of the current ruling party with any local problems. To date I am still awaiting a response of any kind to that as well. It is as if they were merely going through the motions. They want my vote but don’t want to provide any service, so frankly they can whistle for it. And there is mystification amongst our political class about the increasing levels of apathy in political matters.

    I so miss the country and society of my youth.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. moraymint · · Reply

      Thanks, Bill – great observations as ever. At the risk of speaking from the Department of Sweeping Statements, I tend to think that my experience with Moray Council reflects the wider malaise of standards in public life. Something has gone badly wrong over the past half-generation or so, perhaps for a generation.

      We now have a generation of politicians and Establishment (bureaucrats, mainly) who it seems have precious little understanding of public service and accountability. The fact that the voices of 17.4 million people who voted for the UK to leave the European Union had no hearing in our Parliament for over 40 years says it all for me. The political class, the Establishment, the BBC and much of the mainstream media operate in a self-interested bubble.

      My experience with Moray Council is a graphic microcosm of the lack of accountability to which I refer. How else does one even begin to explain the behaviour of the Council’s employees in relation to my decade-long experience?

      Liked by 1 person

  8. A depressing tale Moray. One I suspect that I will become all too familiar with myself now that the pub at the back has been sold for development. You have my admiration though for fighting the fight. A lesser man would have caved in to these bullies.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. moraymint · · Reply

      Yes, thanks for that infidel. I am indeed tenacious (20 years service in the British armed forces may have helped me refine that attitude), but it’s an incredibly frustrating, tedious and worrying state of affairs: a cross between Orwellian and Kafkaesque. It’s the sense of complete impotence that is so alarming. There seems to be not a single person in the Council willing to say, ‘Hang on a minute. This can’t possibly be right …’ They close ranks and look after each other. It’s scary at some level …

      Like

  9. I feel for you, MM, in this classic stand-off between “the little guy” and the arrogance of power. Perhaps the most distressing part of the whole thing is the abuse to which you’ve been subjected, simply for standing up for what you believe.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. moraymint · · Reply

      Thank you, Tim. It’s been the most extraordinary, almost surreal experience for a decade. It’s a cliche, but you couldn’t make it up. It’s terribly difficult to know exactly what to do other than to make the situation as public as possible like this. Of course, if I was ‘wealthy’ (I’m not poor by any stretch, but you know what I mean) I would have engaged the best Planning QC in the land before now to take on Moray Council. But I don’t have the resources to do that – and so I just use my tenacity and my writing and arguing skills to hammer away at the Council.

      I put this post up now because, sadly, I think this is about as far as I can take it. The Council will never admit that they’ve screwed me over nor, I think, will they instruct the current landowner to take down the site. So, I’m stuck with a potential neighbour dispute ad infinitum. It’s pretty depressing really, but worse things happen at sea.

      Moray Council: an example of the state behaving at its absolute worst.

      Like

      1. I’m sure you know the old saying:

        “The law is open to everyone” –

        “So is the Ritz………”

        Liked by 1 person

        1. moraymint · · Reply

          Ha, ha! So true …

          Like

  10. […] via MORAY COUNCIL | A CASE STUDY IN LOCAL GOVERNMENT INCOMPETENCE, UNFAIRNESS AND DUBIOUS INTEGRITY […]

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Vincent Johnson · · Reply

    Sorry to hear about your troubles and your fight is a just one obviously an Englishman’s home is not his castle these day’s and has not been for a long time
    Did Mr Burke not know about the legal matters when he bought from Mr Stead ? surley yes
    The very worrying thing is that if someone like you can be given the run around like this what chance does the average Joe have of getting a fair go
    Things are bad in the UK from top to bottom

    Liked by 1 person

    1. moraymint · · Reply

      Thanks Vincent. Yes, I’m conscious that I’m articulate, tenacious and have a strong sense of right and wrong. It’s occurred to me on many occasions over the years that if I wasn’t fortunate enough to have these attributes I would have had two huge great static caravans overlooking my rear gardens and home for the past decade and forever more. It’s Moray Council’s disingenuosness and utter lack of morality associated with this case which irritates me most …

      Like

  12. akrasia · · Reply

    Hi Moraymint

    I understand your frustration but doubt you’ll have any help through the local Council.
    Is it possible that you are tainted in their minds by previously running as a UKIP candidate, if I recall correctly, and this has been an opportunity for some comeback? – hey, I’m just an old cynic.

    I believe you might try some alternate tactics via the following:-

    The practical option you have open to you is to erect a raised trellis/espaliered fence along and within (appx 1ft) the boundary of your brick wall up on timber posts – which straddles just below your brick wall to however high you wish to go.
    As it is within your shared boundary line and this would not be a solid fence it is not considered a ‘permanent structure’ – it therefore does not have a height limit according to local Council regulations ie. you could raise this at least 2/3m above your current brick wall top. Check your local Scottish Council regs but I believe I am correct in this. I know this is intrusive, but timber/foliage is better than looking at caravans – and instantaneous.

    What does this do?

    It would make a statement to your disagreeable neighbour and block the view from his caravans over your property. If he interfered with this structure he would be causing damage to your property and/or trespassing (as it is within your boundary) so you would therefore have recourse within the law. He couldn’t argue loss of amenity either as this was not applied by his actions to you. The Council would then have the prospect of a potential legal quagmire – which already has history… anyway you get the idea.

    This may seem a little drastic but as a Landscaper I have some experience with these type of situations – and ‘people’. It’s also cheaper than Solicitors.

    Sincerely and Good Luck
    akrasia

    p.s It just occurred to me – if the wall Mr Steed built within your ancient wall was actually breeze block as you state and not concrete block to the 2m height and without appropriate accreditation this must affect your buildings and contents Insurance as a potential hazard to your property? What do they have to say? Also, is there not an equivalent in Scotland to English Heritage laws and covenants with regard to the sanctity of the ancient wall?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. moraymint · · Reply

      Thanks for your comment/advice akrasia; I shall read and digest!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. akrasia · · Reply

        Another thought…

        If your neighbour has actually used breeze blocks (not concrete blocks) as his retaining wall within your ancient wall I suspect he is in breach of building regulations!
        These are generally used for internal wall work. They can be used as external walls but require rendering to insulate them – they are not designed to take on moisture or lateral weight and would weaken over time with potential for some landslip.
        It is worth clarifying – if the Council has allowed a deliberate breach of Building Regulations I think the Governments Planning Inspectorate may take a more serious view.

        Good Luck
        akrasia

        p.s – many thanks for your articles and work over the years.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. moraymint · · Reply

          That’s a good one akrasia, thank you. The ‘retaining walls’ are indeed constructed of un-rendered breeze-blocks. I had an engineer look at them years ago and he was horrified. The walls are not sound from an engineering point of view; they’re not buttressed in any way.

          It’s astonishing the extent to which Moray Council has treated the situation with contempt right from the start. I doubt whether their building inspectors could give a fig about the integrity of the design and construction of the walls, to be honest.

          But a great point nonetheless, thanks …

          Like

  13. Edward Hurst · · Reply

    Very unpleasant!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. moraymint · · Reply

      It’s a perfect example of why I despise the state …

      Like

  14. Roger Hall · · Reply

    Hi, what a absolutely frustrating tale. It reminds me of a similar situation I was involved in with a local developer who wanted a old & healthy sycamore tree felled at the bottom of or rest home’s garden in order to aid his development, but I won’t bore you here. Now I’m no lawyer, however from your post you may well have a case under civil law against the council for negligence which has caused you loss? I would expect that the value of your property has been affected by this unlawful development – the financial loss to you and the abject failure of Moray council to act in accordance with law and/or comply with the Reporters decision notice would appear to be satisfactory proof of negligence. There are 3 types of civil damages, general, punitive & special:

    Awards given to plaintiffs involved in a civil lawsuit. There are three types of civil damages: general, punitive, and special. General damages are given for such things as pain, suffering, and time wasted. Punitive damages are paid for such things as negligence. Special damages are awarded for reimbursement of such expenses as legal costs, medical bills, and loss of income.

    Read more: http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/civil-damages.html

    Legal definition of negligence:

    Negligence as a ‘tort’ or ‘civil wrong’ The most usual definition of negligence is that it is conduct, or a failure to act, that breaches a duty to take care. … This is the breach of duty. And that breach must cause loss; whether physical damage to a person or property or even in some cases purely financial loss.

    Also:

    A failure to behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances. The behavior usually consists of actions, but can also consist of omissions when there is some duty to act (e.g., a duty to help victims of one’s previous conduct).

    Kind regards & good luck

    Roger (btw I thoroughly enjoy your posts – keep posting)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. moraymint · · Reply

      Many thanks Roger; I appreciate your comment and will reflect on what you say. All the best …

      Like

      1. Roger Hall · · Reply

        I would expect nothing less & crucially any decision you take has to include the emotional cost regardless of the strength of your case. On the face of it though you would (in my unprofessional opinion) appear to have a strong case, subject of course to the proof that you would need to demonstrate within the Scottish courts to prove both council negligence & your loss. Regards

        Liked by 1 person

      2. All too common. We had a lesser issue with a famous local restauranteur neighbour. Rochdale Council only acted after two painful years of frustration and only then because we refused to give up publicising their incompetence in the local media.

        We also got a lot of support from local community groups and we made a lot of friends in the process – so not all bad news!

        Not very helpful to you in your situation but I do understand and sympathise. I also suspect you have a clear civil case for redress, particularly as the recorder (like our Ombudsman?) found strongly in your favour.

        I would go after the council first and thereafter the neighbour.

        This won’t be easy but you’ll need to keep it in the public eye. Is there an investigatory TV programme you could approach?

        Sorry not to be more helpful but I would be happy to contribute to a fighting fund if you find it necessary to go down that route.

        Best of luck.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. moraymint · · Reply

          Thanks very much wolsten; all noted. I need to sleep on this meantime, but would contact you if I thought that would help my cause. All the best …

          Like

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