Friday, 27 November 2020

"Letters in support of homes plan were faked"

CALLS have been made for an investigation into the widespread fabrication of letters supporting the proposed development

CALLS have been made for an investigation into the widespread fabrication of letters supporting the proposed development at Thames Farm.

Dozens of letters in support of the application for 95 homes purporting to have come from Henley residents have been submitted to South Oxfordshire District Council but many of the “authors” have no knowledge writing of them.

The letters feature several templates and similar wording but some have no names or signatures and just list addresses.

One letter has a sentence reading: “I am registering my support for planning application ‘INSERT’.”

A number of residents said they had spoken to people whom they believed to be lobbyists in favour of the application who had knocked on their doors but they had not put pen to paper.

Edith Gardiner, of St Andrew’s Road, Henley, said she had not even seen the plans but a letter of support in her name addressed to planning officer Emma Bowerman had appeared on the district council’s website.

It reads: “The proposal for the site to be developed into housing units is very welcome as the plans look well-designed and include a good amount of landscaping. I am also particularly pleased that the development will include a substantial percentage of affordable homes.”

Mrs Gardiner said: “I had no knowledge of this at all. I haven’t seen the plans. I would have never written a letter like that. It’s complete fraud.”

Phil Stradling and Mary Beckinsale, also of St Andrew’s Road, also denied writing a letter, even though one from their address in “Andrew Road” with no signature or even name appeared on the website.

The letter says: “I, the undersigned, believe that the Thames Farm plans will be beneficial for the local area. The plans will provide homes for local people while providing green space and landscaping. As a result I desire the council to approve the proposals without delay.” Mr Stradling said the letter was a “fake” and that many of the letters of “support” were very similar in style. “It certainly needs to be exposed doesn’t it?” he said. “I’m surprised because it’s so childish really.”

Michael Falla, 83, of Mount View Road, was another who supposedly expressed his “support” on the website.

But he said: “I haven’t written this letter. It’s not my style of talking or writing, I’m afraid. If there’s any question of my letter swaying anything then I’m quite prepared to stand up and say that I did not write this letter.”

Mr Falla said he was not against the plans but added: “I’m disappointed that people would sink to this.”

David Evans, of Clarence Road, said he had never written supporting the scheme but a letter under his name and address saying he was in favour appeared on the website.

“I wouldn’t do anything like that,” he said. “I’m not very happy about it. Somebody’s pretending to be me and it’s not me — it’s not very good is it?”

Another letter was alleged to have been written by Sandy Piercey, of Crisp Road, and her husband Kenneth.

Mrs Piercey said: “We have not sent any letters. Someone came to the door and did a survey in our neighbourhood. All we did was agree to the proposal because it has been going for such a long time.”

A letter in support of the application was allegedly signed by Theodore Kaplais, 80, of Mount View.

His wife Noreen, also 80, said her husband could not have written it as he suffers from Alzheimer’s disease and she deals with all their correspondence.

Mrs Kaplais said: “I remember something coming in the post but we did not send anything back. We are both over 80 and would not want to be involved. I know 100 per cent we would not have sent anything.”

Teresa Page, of Crisp Road, said she supported the plans and had spoken to someone at her door but was “disappointed” with a letter being written on her behalf. She added: “A young lady came to the door and asked if I supported it and if I would be prepared to sign a petition. I said ‘yes’ and I did sign it.

“I received a letter from the council. I thought I had signed a petition but it looks like it was a letter to the council.

“I was not happy with that as I felt it was a little bit misleading.”

Henley town councillors Stefan Gawrysiak and Jane Smewing have written to the district council’s head of planning Adrian Duffield asking for an investigation.

A district council spokeswoman said: “We have been contacted by a member of the public alleging that a small number of comments submitted during the consultation for this application may be fraudulent.

“The author and addresses supplied on these letters can’t be verified so we have removed them from the consultation and will not consider them as part of the application process. Identity fraud is a matter for the police and we would assist any investigation.”

DPDS Consulting Group, the agent for applicant Claire Engbers, did not respond to requests for comment.

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