Tuesday, 27 April 2010

There's Just Nothing We Can Do...

A bit older this one.

Last July NCC got all bullish about so-called 'Griminals' who make the place look untidy and jeopardise winning 'Britain in Bloom'.

Then, a couple of weeks later this story about a notorious 'grot-spot' found it's way into the 'Evening Post', complete with stern looking Tory PPC for Nottingham South (click on story for bigger version).

It concerns a property on Greencroft in Clifton that has apparently been empty for some time and has attracted the usual community bugbears, grafitti and 'anti-social behaviour'.

The Tories, in an early outing for their rather successful campaigning method of highlighting NCC failings in order to get themselves in the media and put Labour in a bad light, took up the issue with NCC. (I know I've been somewhat cynical about this and I'm not convinced of their new 'community champions' persona for a second but I have to acknowledge their approach's success as a campaigning tool. They got lots of media mileage from the Radford Unity Complex issue which will have done Rowena Holland absolutely no harm on May 6th.)

The 'Post' reports that the answer they got back was that NCC couldn't serve an enforcement notice to get the place cleaned up because they owned the property and they couldn't serve a notice on themselves. I mean, there is a whacking great hole in their logic there for all to see but we'll let it go for now.

Because later in the article, Cllr Alan Clarke said that the property was on a long lease to a Housing Association. So really, as far as enforcement issues are concerned, this means that NCC isn't the owner at all, the (unnamed) housing association is. So why can't a notice be served on them?

Next I'd like to introduce you to a little known but extraordinarily draconian piece of legislation known as S.215 of the Town and Country Planning Act. Essentially, this allows a local council to make a subjective decision that the condition of a piece of land or property is affecting the 'amenity' (whatever that is, it's not defined) of an area. It can then serve a notice requiring the owner or occupier to clean it up and if you don't comply you can be fined and you'll have a criminal record. The legislation is completely open-ended and, as far as I can see, there is nothing to prevent it being used by a council who decided one day that all front doors on a street should be pink. An increasing number of councils are finding it especially useful for those things that they don't like but which don't require planning permission such as tall hedges because of its handy catch-all nature.

So, you thought an Englishman's home was his castle eh? Not if your local council decides they don't like the colour of your turrets it's not.

And now I have a confession. I have been on the receiving end of this nasty little piece of legislation and found myself in the Magistrates' Court yesterday. Yes, I'm afraid I have an untidy garden. It's got brambles, tall hedges and raggedy bushes. I'm not proud of this fact but, on the other hand, I don't really think it makes me a bad person either.

You see one of the effects of depression, of which I suffer following NCC's appalling treatment of me when I worked for them, and which is defined as a disability under the Disability Discrimination Act, is that you often find that you can't really cope with getting out of bed, never mind doing the gardening. Frankly, if you find the outside of my house offensive you should see the inside.

And the point here is that the sole effect of my garden on the wider community is cosmetic, it doesn't actually hurt anyone. It does however attract increasingly large amounts of wildlife, last summer I saw more butterflies and bumble bees than ever before, both of which are in serious decline but that doesn't seem to be classed as a positive effect on the 'amenity' by NCC. Because, let's remember, they get to make up all the rules.

So, NCC caused my illness and disability and then attempts to prosecute me for not being able to fully cope with all aspects of my life as a result of that disability. As you might guess, I feel a little on the bitter side about that.

So, why do you think that NCC would prosecute a disabled person under S.215 but not a housing association, even though the above property in Clifton would be a much more appropriate case seeing as it is unoccupied and boarded up, creating much more of an eyesore and attracting the dreaded ASB? You don't think it could be because they don't expect the disabled person to be up to fighting back, allowing them to secure an easy prosecution, get it in the media and frighten everybody else into being fully compliant little Stepford Wives? Whereas of course, a housing association is likely to have those inconvenient legal teams staffed with expensive lawyers who probably WILL find all sorts of loopholes and fight back quite determinedly. And of course, being a local authority, you never know when you might need a housing association on your side when government inspectors start looking at how well you deal with the provision of social housing.

No, much easier to bullshit the press and politicians with some nonsense excuse and look the other way. More fool the Tories and the Post for falling for that one.

So I don't know how my case is going to go. I'm probably not helping myself blogging about it but this is partly blogging as therapy and I think the issues are important. The case yesterday was adjourned on NCC's application on the basis that they had 'just' found out that I 'may' be disabled. Ignoring the fact that I am pretty sure that I'm fairly well known amongst NCC's Legal Services team, there's also the fact that I told the Environmental Health guy last year when I caught him sneaking about my property taking pictures.

As I've said in previous posts, there does appear to be a bit of double standards among enforcement decisions by NCC.

By the way, according to the Committees Terms of Reference as part of NCC's Constitution (see p38 of this document and also this page from the NCC website), all enforcement decisions have to be approved by the Development Control Committee. I've checked all their agendas back to September 2008 and they haven't been told about mine.

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