TAXPAYERS in Southampton face a costly legal bill in a mobile phone mast row after council planners failed to send out a refusal letter in time.

Residents in Bassett have been left “livid” after mobile firm giant Telefonica UK won the right to put up a 12m high, “wood effect” mast outside homes on the corner of Bassett Green Close. It received more than 150 objections.

Southampton City Council said it posted a first-class letter confirming a planning refusal decision within a 56-day deadline and issued stop and enforcement notices when Telefonica started to put up the mast.

But a planning inspector said the council had no proof, such as a recorded delivery, that the refusal notice been received by the phone company within the legal timeline and allowed an appeal, allowing the mast to go up. Telefonica was awarded costs which could run into thousands of pounds.

Barry Smith, chairman of the North East Bassett Residents’ Association, accused the council of “total incompetence”

that had cost taxpayers money.

He said: “Only a village idiot would stick the [refusal] notice in the post these days. These people are meant to be professionals.

!Anywhere else there would be repercussions”

He added his association would be demanding an independent investigation into possible maladministration by the council.

Telefonica said its “base station” was needed to boost local coverage of the higher speed 3G network, following demand from its smartphone and tablet customers. It will be shared by Vodafone and O2.

A spokesman said: “We are pleased that the planning inspector has agreed with us that the council has behaved unreasonably in both serving the stop notice and the enforcement notice. This has denied our customers in Southampton improved mobile phone coverage.”

He added costs were being calculated, and that Southampton University refused an approach to use an alternative site.

A council spokesman said: “The council has taken action to ensure that in future there will be irrefutable written evidence of receipt in relevant cases, to avoid similar disputes.”