A BLUNDER has sparked anger on a housing estate which will now become home to a large telephone mast that residents and councillors are strongly opposed to.

Red-faced planners at South Lakeland District Council have taken responsibility for failing to notify telephone giants Vodafone that its plans for a 60-foot mast on Ulverston's Croftlands estate had been refused.

Officers are understood to have notified the communications giant of the decision 57 days after permission had been turned down - one day later than required by legislation.

It means Vodafone can now legally construct the mast, on the corner of Oakwood Drive and Central Drive, to the fury of residents who this week staged a protest in a bid to prevent initial works taking place.

"The council recognises that this is incredibly frustrating for the residents and town councillors who objected to this proposal and can only apologise for the error," said a spokesperson for SLDC.

"They can be assured that the council’s officers supported their view that this proposal should be refused.

“Steps have already been taken to ensure that such a mistake does not happen again.’’

Pat Appleton, coordinator of the Croftlands Community Safety Group, was highly critical of SLDC following the revelation.

She said: "Why wait until the absolute deadline to tell them? It's an unbelievable, monumental incompetence.

"We've lost the case and the mast is going to come. We've spent months on this. It's going to be 60 foot – the whole area will be spoilt in my opinion."

Throughout Monday and Tuesday morning, residents confronted workers who had arrived to lay foundations for the mast, believing planning permission had been refused.

By mid-day on Tuesday, residents were celebrating thinking they had won a temporary reprieve against the mast when engineers appeared to give up the fight.

At the time Ulverston town councillor Colin Pickthall described workers laying down their tools as a 'battle won in a much longer war' but was unaware of the council blunder.

But it has since emerged that Vodaphone was well within its rights to start construction because of the error.

The SLDC spokesperson added: "The application for the mast was submitted through a prior notification procedure, which requires the planning authority to make a decision and for the applicant to have received that decision within 56 days of receipt.

“Under the terms determined by government, failure to notify the applicant of the decision within this period results in the automatic granting of permitted development and no further planning permission is required.

“The council carefully considered all representations made and a decision was taken to refuse the application.

“However, following an internal investigation, it is clear that the applicant was not notified of the council’s decision within the 56 day period.

“Under the terms of prior notification procedure the proposal therefore benefits from ‘deemed consent’ and the applicant is entitled to install the mast."

After learning of SLDC's error, Mr Nick Knibbs, of Central Drive, said: "I feel that SLDC could have done more to make sure protocol was followed in implementing their own ruling.

"They should have made sure, by use of receipts, that all methods of communication was accounted for and that there was a paper trail.

"The fact that they haven't managed to do that in this day and age, I just can't understand.

"We will be back every day that they try to work though, because we feel we are in the right. We've fought the battle and had planning permission refused and we've got the document (to prove it). We will fight on and hopefully get them to find another location."

The location of the mast lies within the ward of SLDC councillor Amanda Rigg. She said it was important measures were put in place to make sure nothing like this happens again.

"Everybody was against it being placed there and I can't understand how something like this can slip through the system," she said.

"It's an error and we're going to have to live with it unfortunately. It's important a lesson is taken from this. Accidents and errors do happen, but this should not happen. Something has to change. If it doesn't then this won't be the last time time something like this happens."

The Westmorland Gazette contacted Vodafone for a comment but no response had been received at the time of going to press.