The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr X complains the Council did not respond to his requests for information in a timely manner and before a planning committee meeting. Mr X contacted the Council three days before the meeting asking for the information. The information shows the Council responded as quickly as it could and within one week of the initial request. There is no evidence of fault by the Council in the time taken to provide the requested information.
- Mr X complains the Council did not respond to his requests for information in a timely manner.
- Mr X says he needed the information before a planning meeting in order to make objections and the lack of response prevented him doing this.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word fault to refer to these. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. If there has been fault which has caused an injustice, we may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1), as amended)
- If we are satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, we can complete our investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- As part of the investigation, I have:
- considered the complaint and the documents provided by the complainant; an
- sent my draft decision to both the Council and the complainant and taken account of their comments in reaching my final decision.
What I found
- Mr X’s property is adjacent to a site that has been the subject of a number of planning applications. The site has seen the development of student housing blocks. Mr X has objected to the previous applications and we have also considered complaints about how the Council dealt with these previous applications.
- An application was submitted to the Council in April 2018. It focused on changes to an existing bin store and included some minor level changes. The Council erected site notices and advertised the application in a local newspaper.
- Mr X objected to the application and had arranged to attend the planning committee and speak. He wanted clarification of some issues to prepare for the meeting and so contacted the Council’s Environmental Health (EH) department in July 2018.
- Mr X wanted clarification of the advice provided by EH as part of the planning consultation process. The EH department told Mr X the officer who provided the consultation response was on leave until 23 July. Mr X explained the planning committee meeting was on 19 July and so he could not wait and needed and urgent response. Mr X says he did not receive any response to his enquiry from the EH department before the planning committee meeting.
- The officer did contact Mr X on her return from annual leave on 23 July. She told Mr X that EH had not provided any advice regarding the bin store in respect of the planning application.
- Mr X says the planning committee were given inaccurate information about EH’s views on the bin store. He says the planning committee should not have been told EH had no objections to the bin store but that it had not made any comment on the bin store. He says the failure to return his calls promptly prevented him from putting the true position to the Council.
- I am considering a separate complaint from Mr X about the Council’s consideration of the planning application. This complaint is about the delay by the EH department responding to his requests for information.
- Mr X contacted the Council by telephone and email on 16 and 17 July. The planning committee meeting was held on 19 July and Mr X wanted information before that date. The officer who had been dealing with the case and who had provided the consultation response to the planning application was on leave and not due to return until 23 July. Mr X is dissatisfied that no-one else in the EH department could deal with his queries.
- I appreciate Mr X was working to a specific time scale and so wanted an immediate response. It is unfortunate the case officer was on annual leave and no-one else could answer Mr X’s query. Officers within EH have their own caseloads and do not generally provide cover. It is not fault that no other officer could answer the queries on this case.
- The case officer had provided her comments on the planning application before going on leave. She could not have anticipated that Mr X would contact her and require an immediate response. She responded on her first day back in the office. I find no fault in the time taken to respond to Mr X’s queries.
- The Council has apologised to Mr X for not getting back to him between his email on 17 July and the planning committee meeting on 19 July. However, it does not consider this affected the outcome of the application or Mr X’s ability to attend the planning committee and make his views known.
- I will now complete my investigation as there is no evidence of fault causing Mr X a significant injustice.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman