DARLINGTON council has been found guilty of maladministration over planning and could now face paying compensation to complainants.

The local government Ombudsman, Mrs Patricia Thomas, found in favour of Brinkburn Drive residents who brought an action against the council for not consulting them over the height of the Baydale Court housing development behind their properties.

They also claimed that over a four-year period, despite concerns about the towering height of the new homes, the council only made one site visit since 1996. In some instances, new homes had been 8ft higher and only 6ft away from garden fences.

After investigating the case, Mrs Thomas found the council guilty of maladministration causing injustice.

In the report, she states that no reference was made to the development's height in the officer's written report, neither was any detail of the council's policy on protection of amenity and privacy explained at the meeting.

She stated that members' recollection of the meeting were varied as to whether the issues were addressed, and she concluded that on the balance of probabilities the matter was not adequately reported to or considered by members. She also took the view that some amendment to the plans could have been achieved had a site visit taken place.

The council is recommended to seek independent advice to discover if homes in Brinkburn Drive have lost value as a result. If so, each complainant should be paid the difference in value.

The council is also urged to pay an additional £250 compensation to the main complainant because of a delay in responding to a query over who was responsible for her property boundary.

The delay was found to have prevented her from raising the question with the developer.

But residents' feel the report does not go far enough.

A Brinkburn Drive resident, who wished not to be named, said: "We believe the outcome should have been more than maladministration.

"It is an horrendous situation for four houses in particular. The new homes tower above them, they have lost their privacy and rarely use their gardens any more.

"Residents want the houses pulled down and turned around so they do not look directly on to them and on the same height."

However Coun David Lyonette, the council's cabinet lead member for regeneration and planning, criticised the report for being "totally unfair".

He said: "The ombudsman started the investigation more than a year after it was decided upon. I only keep records of what I've said in committee for a year. After that my notes are destroyed.

"I believe the ombudsman felt the committee had not been given the full information. This was not the case, and if my notes were available the facts would come to light.