Council defends charges after Ottery householder criticises fees

Adrian Forster has concerns about the payments for planning advice. Ref sho 24 18TI 5140. Picture: T

Adrian Forster has concerns about the payments for planning advice. Ref sho 24 18TI 5140. Picture: Terry Ife - Credit: Archant

A householder in Ottery has branded council charges for simple planning advice ‘one step away from a scam’.

Adrian Forster, a retired quality manager for social services, who lives in Oak Close, rang East Devon District Council planning department to ask if he would need to go through building regulations to renew his roof.

He was amazed when the woman on the other end of the line said she couldn’t help him until he’d paid £40.

“I was gobsmacked. I said: ‘Are you kidding me?’ And she said: ‘No’,” he explained.

“I was just asking for fairly general advice. I had a loft conversion done 12 years ago and part of that was a dormer window with a flat roof. And being a good citizen, I just wanted to know whether I would need to go through building regulations to get it renewed.”

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He said the woman he spoke to was very pleasant and slightly apologetic but said that she couldn’t help unless he made a payment first.

“To my mind public authorities have a duty to help people understand what their responsibilities are.

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“And to not give very basic information like that is asking people to break the law,” he added.

He said several people had had a similar reaction to being charged for advice.

“I think it’s extortionate.

“I feel sorry for the poor people who are trying to carry out these nonsense policies. This is one step away from being a scam.

“It’s frightening really,” he said.

EDDC said its planning service has been charging for planning advice for many years and does this on a ‘cost recovery’ basis.

“Its charges were similar to or cheaper than other authorities.

A spokeswoman said: “The simple fact is that council tax is nowhere near sufficient to cover the cost of council services and so additional charges are often imposed at the point of service delivery for non-statutory services such as providing advice on planning matters which is a service that the council is not required to provide.”

The council has advice on its website and includes links to other sites such as the Planning Portal where information is available for free and ‘customers can find answers to their own questions’.

But Adrian said: “It’s very clumsy and clunky.

“It was so limited it was useless.”

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