Armando Martins – Conclusions and Lessons Learnt

Conclusions

The Armando Martins Campaign concludes:

What Happened

Mr Martins and his wife were members of a community at Thornhurst but sadly his neighbours turned against them.  They abused their relationship with East Kent Housing staff in order to obtain information and escalate unfounded allegations about him to create a toxic environment intended to force him to move.  This is unlawful according to the CPS.

Support and Prevention

According to various management models, people faced with a high degree of challenge and who receive little support are at risk due to stress.  This is the (toxic) situation Mr Martins found himself in.

Anti social behaviour policy could have been invoked at any time, and would have prevented the situation.  Management did not realise its responsibility to him and their obligation to remain impartial.  The housing department made promises to Mr Martins to be able to operate his hobby at Thornhurst in a very specific way.  The written contract between him and the housing department, the special terms of which should have been confidential, was undermined and turned against him.  The deal struck in order to get him to move was reneged on.

When the matters were escalated,  an arbitrary decision was made that curtailed his rights as a member of the community under planning law.  Mr Martins hobby has been practised for over a century from communities and he was looking forward to contributing his skills to this one.  This was a life affecting decision made by the officers in the planning department.  Housing were making similar decisions without consultation with the community safety team and health and social care or indeed culture.

The Armando Martins Campaign, asked – were this families mental and physical health ever taken into account in all these decisions?  Due to the responses received there is evidence to suggest that not all of the experts needed to make such a life changing decision were consulted.  Health and Well being, Culture, Leisure, Community Safety and community development are all factors in Mr Martins treatment.

The community safety aspects should have been the overriding factors.  We asked why nobody in the process had the empathy to realise there was severe victimisation at play and call a halt to proceedings until it was resolved?  See also Case Study 2.  The decision by the planning department and housing appears to be unconstitutional therefore (See here).

In the planning process, the opinions of any supporters which were similar in nature to this campaigns petition were not fully considered etc.  Any supporting opinions were overridden  councillors with fixed views, contrary to the secretaries of state for health and community an planning.  The process was subject to complaint and one of the councillors had to make an apology but took a full year to concede his planning application was subject to a distorted process and the planning committee meeting was wrongly conducted.

Mr Martins found himself alone and without support and in the face of overwhelming power.

Nobody queried his treatment or was prepared to say how it had affected their decision making.  We say any action by the council should have been stopped while the anti-social behaviour was dealt with.

Escalation

The neighbours, were aided by staff, when they invaded Mr Martins privacy by going out to get the information they needed to escalate their grievance.  Their grievance was upheld both by housing and by a planning department with seemingly double standards.  Mr Martins believes the planning process was abused by one neighbour who illegally lobbied the council planning committee as it sat to consider his case.

Breaches of Policy

These are in abundance.  Old planning processes that were simplified in 2012 should now be much easier to apply.  Instead they have been used in an inappropriate, heavy handed approach.  De-minimis levels have been exceeded for example.

Perspective

To put things in perspective,  Mr Martins had his hobby removed and his appeal dismissed by a council in a flawed action at public expense.  In 2016 in the same councils area a rubbish dump containing one hundred refrigerators has been allowed to accumulate in the same period and the cost of that clearance is going to the taxpayer.  Mr Martins new local area is persistently littered with rubbish, old refrigerators and fly tipping residue.  The question is, was putting a 76 year old man through this process twice, a good use of council time and resources?  Would the money not be better used in a clean up?  Within five miles of his location other amateurs enjoy the support of the council with developments far greater than what he is asking for.

The instant demand to remove the antenna directly contravened a later directive which said to the effect “we will work with you to resolve any issues before taking that last step of banning the item”.  There was still room for improvement when the ultimatum was issued.  I.e he could have been advised to keep the antenna down where it could not be seen, bearing in mind Mr Martins is 76 and it would be a difficult job to keep winding it up and down, (but it could have been motorised etc).  A paint job could have helped conceal it when it was up.  Operating times could have been varied etc.

Set up to Fail

Mr Martins retrospective planning application and subsequent appeal was doomed to fail. When questioned about the planning process, the response from the planning team was obfuscated.  Strikingly, it showed there were no measurements or photographs to support the decision giving further rise to the arbitrary nature of it.  It appears to be based on the hearsay provided by the assailant(s) in a vendetta.  The report seen would not stand up to scrutiny and would be as easy to refute in court.  The trumped up complaints made by the assailants which appear are all written by the same hand.

Toxic Cocktail

For a 76 year old man: His prospects during his time at Thornhurst and the outcomes of the events were stressful.  Controlling behaviour displayed by his neighbours, Losing the support of housing for his ventures.  Having his activities limited.  Moving house, were all part of a toxic cocktail served up on top of his normal life events, and putting him at risk of mental illness (typical of a triple whammy capable of causing severe depression for example).

The planning departments view that “he erected the antenna at his own risk” is inexcusable when taken in context of the above.  We think they are the experts when it comes to planning law.  We are therefore highly surprised that at some point during the process the legality of the ban being imposed on Armando and why was never examined and exposed by them.

Double Standards

Double standards have been applied.  The policy according to head of planning is not to support the individual when it came to Mr Martins.  Yet it supported the neighbour with the grudge against him.  The bureaucracy of dealing with more than one department led Mr Martins to encounter more than one set of double standards.

Planning made no effort to assert his rights granted to all members of the community by the secretary of state for community and planning.  They sat on their hands while the housing department breached the very acts designed to facilitate his hobby.  They presented no data to support the case for refusing the planning application.  We list a number of precedents here and here.  The benefits to him and the community were ignored during the process.  We therefore think a classic abuse of power has occurred.

Further Risk

We believe there is  a further risk to Mr Martins as he goes forward to apply for planning permission in his new accommodation.  We asked the CEO of EKH to address this by supporting him by locating him where the issues he faced would not occur and he could practice his hobby.  Mr Martins is now observing planning requirements to the letter, but finds he is working to several departments with varying expertise in the matters.  This was borne out by an incident two days after moving in, where housing staff attempted a heavy handed clamp down on the TV Antenna fitted to the new premises.  This was there long before he moved into it.  Despite the fact that all similar properties in the area have the same antenna a notice to take it down was issued.  This brings into question the level of training available to staff and what their brief was.  Since moving into a new property he is now subject to further scrutiny as he attempts to clear his designs for antennas.  Something he didn’t expect after the CEO of EKH promised he would be allowed to operate at the new location.  To be fair when CEO was informed the “ad hoc enforcement notice” was swiftly removed.

Making Sense of the Planning Process

Following a consultation with RSGB the campaign led a follow up meeting on 14th June 2017 on the property with the property services director at East Kent Housing.  This enabled clarification of the rules being applied to Mr Martins and the guidelines for permitted developments.  The meeting opened up direct communication about what Mr Martins wanted to achieve, and where it fitted within the planning process.  The consultation had examined the difference between permitted developments and those requiring planning permission.  The meeting gave the view that at the level of management involved in the situation council staff did not have the skills or the authority to enable Mr Martins to exercise his rights.   Several months time was wasted in floating emails back and forth at that level with Mr Martins confused about his rights and worried about his hobby.  It took the experience of a director to grant him landlords permission to achieve his rights.

Defective Process

During the consultation the issues council staff had with antenna were highlighted as coming from defective processes and associated documentation published by the crown and enforced by the planning department, housing and to some degree property services.  The general permitted development order focuses on all types of domestic antenna but omits those types required to receive amateur radio transmissions – which need to be longer and higher than their domestic counterparts (but not necessarily scaled up).  When researching the regulations as Canterbury City Council and EKH were,  there is a tendency to search this document for the keywords antenna and its pseudonyms.  The point is, amateur radio antenna are classed as developments attached to the house or within the curtilage of a property – the same as an extension or conservatory or shed.  This forces a “double whammy” of further restrictions.  Some relief can be found by complying with the rules for permitted developments, and de-minimis rules.

A number of amateurs reporting to the campaign and via social media had said they were being told to take down antennas  and apply for planning permission even for small antennas that fell within the de-minimis rules or minor changes.  The cost of this and the time and effort required being unfair and prohibitive.  Despite guidelines this council was trying to force Mr Martins to abide by the rules for domestic antenna and require planning permission for anything different.

Currency of Guidelines

There are obvious gaps in the implementation of current planning law delaying the adoption of the 2012 National Planning Policy Framework.  Sadly while we discovered many policies, and good practice in the new planning guidelines, these weren’t yet being applied in communities and what we saw did not involve people like Mr Martins in the process, giving rise to a risk that individuals that make up communities are not being consulted or provided for when local plans are developed.

Dealing with Malicious Complaints

There are obvious differences between how various councils deal with malicious complaints such as those aimed at using the council to abuse the victim during a dispute or vendetta.  One council we consulted recently will not enforce an action when a neighbour dispute is at play and it involves the reporting person(s).  Unfortunately, according to CCC, this does not apply to them.  See case study 2.

Anti Social Behaviour – Experience of Others

Mr Martins has been treated differently to others and his is not an isolated case.  He shares the experience with several cases in UK and at least ten other respondents to the petition.

The skills to manage cases of controlling and anti social behaviour appear absent in the two cases discussed despite a crime or crimes being involved.  Attempts were made to involve police and social services after studying the policies displayed on their respective websites. Kent Police now claims to be taking a lead in this,  See here but remained aloof which strongly suggests they will avoid dealing with it but put a positive spin on it (to meet home office targets).   Social services took several weeks to respond and “delegated” their responsibility to protect him as a vulnerable person, to this campaign.  There is evidence to suggest anti social behaviour in the community is being ignored and covered up – protecting the assailant.  Confusion about various behaviours such as stalking and the application of recent changes to the law which should settle many victims are not being applied working in favour of the assailant.

To date Mr Martins Assailants are still gossiping and bragging about their destructive “achievements”.  To whit they are gratified by achievng their aim at the expense of Mr Martins.  He is now settled with friends around him and planning his next exploits – but highly troubled by his experience.  The council has had to pay the cost of this in the time and effort the staff have had to put into arranging the move, rather than resolve the matter according to its own fair policy.

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