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Fears over planning records after arson attack

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Architects are waiting to find out the implications of a suspected arson attack which has destroyed the planning department at South Oxfordshire District Council

A 47-year-old man has been arrested following the fire at the Crowmarsh Gifford offices which the council shares with Vale of White Horse District Council.

The planning department is currently non-operational following the fire - believed to have destroyed 85 per cent of the building - and the council’s insurance assessors are expected to inspect the structure later today.

Oxford-based architect Ian Salisbury told Architects Journal: ‘The question everyone is asking is where the council kept their paper records of old planning applications?

‘A lot of councils have scanned copies of their paper planning documents, but by no means all of them.

“If they were onsite and destroyed then it could be difficult for planners able to tell if people are telling the truth if they claim they have planning permission for historical development.’

The council’s website is currently down, and it is understood that onsite servers have been affected.

It is unclear whether the council stored computerised records of planning applications and permissions onsite, and whether they are backed up at another location.

Nick Roberts, president of Socitm, the representative body for council ICT professionals, and until recently group ICT manager at Surrey County Council, told AJ: ‘Council data is likely to be backed up on council servers once a day or more. This would be kept in a fireproof safe, but the severity of the blaze means that it might not have survived. If that is the case, then they would have to go back to the last offsite backup – probably a couple of days or so.’
However, he said that legacy paper based data going back decades could have been lost.

According to reports, the fire was started in the early hours of yesterday morning after a man drove a car into the council offices filled with gas canisters, which were then ignited.

Fire fighters spent all day containing the fire, but the planning department suffered extensive damage, according to a council spokesman.

It has been reported that the arrested man had been involved in a long-running planning dispute with the council and neighbours.

Two other properties – a cottage and a funeral parlour next to another council office nearby were also affected by fires which started in the minutes following the main blaze.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • The Council responded to this on Twitter as follows:

    South Oxfordshire DC ?@SouthOxon 22 hrs22 hours ago
    @GurtlerDavid @BBCNews Our business continuity plan is in place and we hope to have services up and running as soon as possible.

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