Published: 15:31, 09 September 2021
| Updated: 09:21, 10 September 2021
The leader of Maidstone Borough Council has apologised to the owner of a property near Marden after a staff member accidentally published a joke decision on his planning application, adding 'Don't even bother re-applying LOL."
We exclusively revealed this week how a mistake at the Mid Kent Planning support team saw an office junior, tasked with software testing, end up approving or rejecting cases, with several choice remarks added.
It has now emerged a farm owner from near Maidstone has been caught up in the saga, alongside applicants in Sheppey and Sittingbourne.
Guillaume Carpenter of Wanshurst Green, a hamlet 2km east of Marden, had applied for permission to convert a derelict outbuilding at Wanshurst Green Farm into a holiday let.
But he received a response from the Mid Kent Planning Support team that told him permission had been refused with these sub-notes: 1) Don't even bother re-applying LOL, and 2) Not even joking LMAO.
The decision notice was signed automatically by Maidstone's Head of Planning Rob Jarman.
Five applicants in Swale found themselves with similar joke decisions, with one animal sanctuary charity being told its application was "whack."
A change of use from a butchers was turned down with the official comments reading simply “no”, and “just don’t”, while the partial demolition of a pub in Sittingbourne was granted, with the response “incy, wincy, spider”.
The error was attributed to a member of staff who thought they were were running a test of a new computer system, but inadvertently published the "decisions" making them not only public, but legally binding.
Cllr David Burton (Con) said: "The error made in the issuing of these planning decisions is regrettable. I would like to reassure both planning applicants and the public of Maidstone that I take the impacts and consequences of this seriously."
He added: "A thorough investigation is being carried out to look at the events leading to the incorrect publishing of these planning decisions.
"Lessons will be learnt, and safeguards improved to prevent this or anything similar occurring in the future.”
The council said staff had been testing a new computer administrative system when the error occurred which led to the publication of dummy planning decision notices for six randomly selected planning applications.
Unfortunately, in law, the decisions though issued in error still stand and the councils will have to have them formally reversed by a court, which could prove both time-consuming and costly. Initial estimates of £8,000 were suggested.
The council may instead ask the applicants to re-submit a duplicate application which can then be judged in the proper manner. A spokesman said: "We are working with the applicant and their agent to resolve the issue and do not anticipate a need to judicially review the decision.”
However that will mean starting again from scratch with the public consultation period which will still mean a delay.
The council admitted that as well as the incorrect decisions, some of the dummy text used to test the software was "not appropriate."
It said: "This text was drafted by a member of staff 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." Cllr Burton said: “I apologise for any offence caused."
Mr Carpenter was seeking to convert the timber frame of an old Grade II listed barn on the property dating from 1894 into a one-bedroom holiday let, suggesting it was the best way to preserve the building for posterity.