Mass resignations have hit the long-standing body that runs the region’s most exclusive housing estate following a row over an expensive planning battle.
Property owners in Darras Hall, Northumberland, have accused its residents’ committee of “opening the floodgates to developers” after approving a controversial planning application.
The fears were raised by people living in the Ponteland estate after plans to build five luxury homes in the area were given the green light by the Darras Hall Estates Committee, which had previously adamantly opposed the development on Runnymede Road.
Last year, developers Lugano received conditional outline planning from Northumberland County Council for the homes but the Darras Hall committee used its unique powers under local bye-laws to block the scheme.
This prompted Lugano to threaten legal action against the committee costing £19,000 a week for delaying the development.
The committee has since backtracked on its decision and has now approved the scheme.
Five committee members have now resigned from their posts due to growing concerns over the way the committee is being run.
Andrew Tucker, one of the former members who stood down, said: “I resigned on a point of principle. Not only is there a lack of transparency from the committee but there is also a lack of accountability to owners.
“In my opinion, the committee has failed to act in the interests of the owners of the Darras Hall estate and lost sight of its obligations to serve those owners.”
In response to “a good deal of interest among owners” regarding the Lugano development, committee chairman Michael Dainty issued a newsletter to Darras Hall residents.
Within the newsletter he highlights how a £63,740 legal bill was incurred after the committee sought legal advice over Lugano’s threat to seek damages from the committee. This level of expenditure, the lack of consultation and detailed explanation of the make up of these costs, has led to widespread concern from residents.
They also feel there has been a lack of consistency in the application of the estate covenants and bye-laws and in dealing with applications.
Despite Mr Dainty informing the owners in 2012 that the estate had adopted a development policy that prevented the further subdivision of plots, some locals feel the committee has reversed its own policy by overturning a previous refusal and granting Lugano permission for the five houses on the corner of Runnymede Road and Fox Covert Lane.
One of the owners on the Darras Hall estate, Sheila Trafford, said: “In my mind the Darras Hall Estates Committee has not served the interest of the owners well. They are there for a purpose and I do not think they have sought the views of the residents properly. They don’t seem to care and I don’t think they have acted in our best interests.
“Despite strong and public support for the refusal of the application, the Estates Committee, in the face of apparently baseless threats by a developer, reversed its decision. By ignoring its own policy on preventing the subdivision of plots, the Darras Hall Estates Committee has potentially opened the floodgates to developers and completely undermined our confidence in it.
“Instead of facing the owners at a General Meeting to explain its actions, the committee has stonewalled every effort by the owners to call that meeting and have instead tried to hide behind the Chairman’s Newsletter.”
Gilbert Wright, who is one of only six remaining committee members, said: “There’s a strict set of circumstances in which a General Meeting of owners is to be called and that just wasn’t met.
“There hadn’t been proper procedures to requisition that meeting and that is why it didn’t happen and meetings like that don’t come cheap.”
The Journal attempted to contact Darras Hall Estates Committee chairman, Mr Dainty, for comment but he was not available.
Lugano were also approached for comment but declined.