Gorleston wall collapse: councillors approved plans against officers’ advice

PLANS to build homes on the site where a wall collapsed were approved by borough councillors against officers’ advice, the Mercury can reveal.

Correspondence between officers and residents in Cliff Hill reveals building regulations were powerless to intervene in building methods unless there was “clear, unequivocal evidence of structural damage” once plans were approved.

A 2009 report from engineers at Canham Consulting, appointed by the developers, states past damage to the slope had been caused due to “substantial amounts of water traversing the site and that this has emanated from the highway.”

It adds the upstand of the kerb on Cliff Hill, which is managed by Norfolk County Council, is “insufficient to prevent any but the most modest of water flows.”

The report details measures that could be taken for the builders to safely develop the private land where water runs, including filling eroded areas and constructing a water barrier along the kerb edge.

No blame has been apportioned to any party at this stage.

Plans for the site were lodged by landowner Mr R C Mitchell in 2003.

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He wished to clear the site, west of Beach Road, and build a pair of semi-detached three bed homes.

Officers ruled the application should be refused, as it would erode the provision of open space - and noted it was contrary to a further three planning policies regarding highway safety, settlement boundaries and conservation areas.

There was no suggestion it would be unsafe to build on the site, or that building regulations were an issue.

Councillors - who have the final say - gave outline plans the thumbs up on August 14, 2003.

George Jermany, councillor for East Flegg ward, was chairman of the planning committee at the time.

He said he had no recollection of the meeting when plans for the site by the White Lion steps were approved, but that councillors would never approve plans if officers ruled that there were issues with building regulations.

“The bottom line is, if plans fit the building regulations and planning laws we don’t have a lot of reasons for turning things down.”

There were two letters of objection from neighbours in Pier Road, and one in favour from a resident in Cliff Hill.

Applications for the site stretch back to 1981 - when it was hoped holiday chalets and associated parking could be built - but plans had always been refused.

Building work on the two homes was taken on by M&D Developments (Norfolk) Limited, registered to the address of developer Darin Scales in Bradwell.

Some Cliff Hill residents wrote to the council when they allege piling work began, causing “major cracks” in walls of homes.

But they were told: “Building regulations have no control over the method of construction.”