The Armando Martins Campaign – Current Situation and Update as at October 2019 – (Revised 20th Oct 19).

By Stuart Dixon – Acting CEO Radio Heritage UK

August 2019 – Meeting with Rosie Duffield MP.  (Canterbury)

Armando Martins and me were granted time with Rosie Duffield MP in August to talk about the way that East Kent Housing and Canterbury City Council had cracked down in a draconian way on Armando’s lifestyle. This followed his horrendous experience at the hands of an abusive mob while living in social housing. 

Martins was well received by the MP and encouraged by the level of support, understanding and empathy shown. Being treated as a voter boosted his confidence in being able to eventually obtain closure with East Kent Housing – something he is determined to achieve. He was sad to report this had so far been avoided by the senior management.  Rosie Duffield MP was genuinely interested in our account of the abuse and the coercion exhibited by both his assailants and council services when he was living at Thornhurst in Herne Bay. We said we have certainly met many closed minds on the topic as Martins went about rebuilding his life.

We made the MP aware of the lack of will shown by the national complaint system to do anything about his situation and a complete record of his experience was left on file at the constituency office. (We know since the meeting that she has reviewed his situation with Deborah Upton, the CEO of East Kent Housing.  (As at today we are still waiting for Ms Upton to respond in the way the MP suggested).

From this meeting it was also realised that Martins is not alone in his East Kent Housing Experience. He was just confirming his observations of being lied to, cheated and betrayed, and having his goals repeatedly blocked, adding them to over five hundred other complaints on record at the constituency office. These mostly showed a lack of compassion to members of the public meted out by hard pressed, under qualified, and under supervised workers.

Change

We were made aware of some change of personalities in the planning committee. More recently we discovered that a new chairman has recently been appointed to EKH. We wish Jamie Weir good luck in his new appointment. We have also seen an improvement plan for EKH. We hope the above change will be able to detoxify the organisation and help Martins to move on.

Fate of Legal Challenge

We reported that after trying to settle matters through mediation, more than once, Martins was repeatedly refused this by East Kent Housing. Then in August his planned legal challenge as a litigant in person was finally torpedoed by the defendants myriad of solicitors who simply asked the judge to strike out his case

This came after a year of trying to express what had happened to him in legal terms without any legal experience, being continuously undermined by the defendants solicitors.  EKH had simply trumped Martins by making it difficult for him, using their massively available legal budget to avoid exposure.

While EKH can avoid accountability to the public by evading responsibility and cover it up like this, we think they are accountable to parliament. However we discussed new evidence (see below) and how completing the Local Government Ombudsman’s complaints process proved fruitless just as we expected.

New Evidence

Just as his legal case was collapsing Martins found new documentary evidence showing that in 2011 he, East Kent Housing and his MP – Julian Brazier MP worked to confirm his right to use his 30 foot radio mast in a Canterbury City Council property from 2010 to 2012.

These letters show his MP was the driver of that – a power no less than the House of Commons therefore.

Martins has already shown written evidence showing he had asked EKH and the LPA to respect this and this had been dismissed.

Recap of what happened when he was asked to move house

At the point when the nightmare neighbours at Thornhurst went on the attack, EKH staff refused to back him, and betrayed him. Both acted in a way that would destroy his lifestyle. In their bid to stop him from practicing a hobby, he was forced to apply for planning permission twice, when it would have been his legitimate choice not to. There was little or no chance his applications would be approved after the attacks, because his assailants went to extraordinary lengths to bias people against him – says Martins. He was forced to move again.

In his struggle we witnessed him being coerced through malleable planning processes in the direction of refusal and dismissal of his second planning application. He went through this process twice. While he was engaged in this EKH and the Local Planning Authority both exhibited a perfect example of corporate memory loss – denying all knowledge of his previous situation. The second application was a mirror image of the first application.

Sum Total of Bureaucracy

Two planning applications, two planning appeals, a complaint to the ombudsman, two attempts at mediation and a (so far) dismissed court case. We think a new approach is needed as we also ponder the cost to the taxpayer.

Applying for planning permission and meeting the demands of a planning appeal are expensive stressful processes when all you want to do is put up an aerial in your garden to support your hobby.

It seems the power of toxic nightmare neighbours to influence council workers is much greater than that of the House of Commons.

Now

In his current abode, Martins appreciates that he is subject to the dismissal of his most recent planning application. This does not rule out experimenting with antenna in his garden. Martins has said his piece and will be getting on with his life in accordance with all necessary guidelines.

In this time the following events were also relevant to his case:

  • In separate court cases, two people were jailed for 28 days for nightmare neighbour attacks. (By way of contrast, Martins abusive neighbours were supported by East Kent Housing workers who betrayed their promises to support him just to appease them).
  • Martins contributed to the House of Commons Enquiry into reality TV highlighting Channel Five’s reluctance to talk to him when he requested them to stop screening the episode which humiliated him (and his community of interest). 
  • Martins’ experience led us to start an organisation called Radio Heritage UK and to offer support to others in the same situation.
  • We intervened when another person, John, had his planning application similarly refused.  Later John’s planning appeal was upheld by the Planning Inspectorate.  He lives in social housing within a mile of Martins and applied for a similar structure on a bungalow like Martins, and of a similar size. We noted the same discrepancies in the process and poor report writing applied to John as did to Martins. 
     
  • More recently an example of good practice has come to light to compare Martins experience with. It concerns an elderly person living in a care home near Herne Bay being able to practice his hobby because the care staff helped him to erect an antenna to meet his housing needs while staying at the home. We applaud their compassion. Any decent service provider would do the same, knowing how such support affects his well being.
     
  • We took part in the public consultation about the National Planning Policy Framework and noted the changes being made in 2018. We also took part in the consultation on planning enforcement run by the LPA (Canterbury City Council).
     
  • Martins, who is incredibly dynamic for a 79 year old disabled man has been able to re-instate his social standing and keep up his hobby.
     
  • Shortly after his second move, During 2017 we worked to settle him in and establish his property needs with East Kent Housing obtaining landlords permission to erect various antenna.  We used the criteria in planning guidance, and also that set by his community of interest.  Especially we educated housing staff on how to approach the subject after they demonstrated unnecessary and unwanted belligerence, and excessive controlling behaviour to his experiments.

Ongoing Support

We continue to support Martins, and want to learn from his experience, feeding that back to his community of interest and the Planning System via his LPA – who we noted also needs support to understand our community. 

What is Martins Strategy Now?

His current experiments with radio antennae are designed with a number of purposes in mind.  Firstly for him and people like him to have fun and be supported. Also documenting the impact of his experience on his well being.

He will achieve this by documenting interactions with citizens and officials so that people engaged in his activities learn from his experience, hopefully creating an improvement. He aims:

  • To test the documents and assumptions that were used by the LPA and Planning Inspectorate in refusing him planning permission.
  • To gauge the actual social impact of the refused antenna on the housing community against the assumed impact. 
     
  • To continue to understand, test, and feedback to housing and the LPA about Martins’ housing needs in the light of Local Plans, Planning Guidelines, Gaps in process, Enforcement Policy and Recent changes.
     
  • Particularly we wish to gain an understanding about the intended use of templates for planning applications described in the 2018 version of the National Planning Policy Framework and how this applies to Martins, and in the light of John’s experience (above) plus all of the other examples of people with similar installations throughout UK.
  • Martins will work on a more acceptable design if necessary. 
  • Provide evidence of the impact of his hobby and support for it on his personal well being and feed back to national heritage and well being programmes.

Field notes:

8th October.   I visited Martins who was in the process of clearing up after renewing the permitted development in his garden, comprising a ten meter mast erected with his landlords permission in July of 2017.  (This was free standing and had been moved to a firmer base a couple of feet nearer the center line of the garden.  He positioned a lightweight beam antenna at the top and noted that while a similar configuration was refused planning permission, when we read current guidelines there is nothing to suggest this now requires formal planning permission.  He has a scaffolding tower to work from and shows determination despite his disability. Showing the scaffolding and antenna in its resting position from 50m which is well blended with the background and under the skyline.

Community cohesion.  During this visit Martins demonstrated excellent community cohesion by addressing a West African friend in person in impeccable French.  Also a cheerful exchange with a local friend who he shares time and interests with, in the local community.  There is no doubt he is developing a good deal of respect in the local community he joined in March 2017.  Martin’s was supported by a young man who lives nearby to get the antenna in place – the son of a friend who lives local.

Incidents. Negative experiences. It was depressing to see that within ten minutes of completing the construction and standing back to take in the actual visual impact  – a council worker turned up to take photographs – “to be reported back to the council for their action” he says.  Martins was visibly depressed by this.  I certainly found the speed at which this happened a touch intimidating and wondered if Armando was on a “watch list”. A friend said he wondered if he was under CCTV Surveillance. We are just waiting to see what happens next, if anything.

9th October.  Call from Martins – tests show antenna not working.  Arranged fault finding trip – scaffolding back up.  No adverse impact noted.

12th October.  With Martins.  Tested Antenna – identified problems and resolved them.  Both very satisfied.  Me with fault finding skills and Martins with the result.  Later received phone call.  Antenna tested in contact with Portugal (Martins home country) – Good signals.  A very satisfying result for him and me.

Stuart Dixon FRSA

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