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Torbay Council (20 011 016)

Category : Environment and regulation > Trees

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 15 Mar 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr X complained about the Council’s refusal to remove some pine trees from Council land close to his property. We should not investigate this complaint. This is because there is insufficient evidence of fault which would warrant an investigation.

The complaint

  1. Mr X complained about the Council refusing to remove some tall pine trees which he says could endanger his and other houses near the land where they are planted. He also says residents suffer nuisance from pine cones and debris from the trees.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. 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’. We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We may decide not to start or continue with an investigation if we believe:
  • it is unlikely we would find fault, or
  • the injustice is not significant enough to justify our involvement, or
  • it is unlikely we could add to any previous investigation by the Council.

(Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)

  1. We investigate complaints of injustice caused by ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. We cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have considered all the information which Mr X submitted with his complaint. I have also considered the Council’s response. Mr X has been given an opportunity to comment on a draft copy of my decision.

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What I found

  1. Mr X says he is concerned about some tall pine trees on Council land which are close to his property. He says that he and other residents are worried about the trees falling on their property in high winds and he raised his concerns with the Council in 2010. He says that residents are prepared to negotiate with the Council about funding lower-impact replacements.
  2. The Council has inspected the trees since then and in the intervening years and has informed Mr X that its professional tree inspector believes there is minimal risk from the trees falling and that they are in good health. The Council will not remove trees with an amenity value where they are not diseased or a risk to the public.
  3. We may not question the merits of decisions which have been properly made. We do not comment on judgements councils make, unless they are affected by fault in the decision-making process. In this case the Council has properly considered the trees and it can decide whether or not they should be removed.
  4. If the trees did cause any damage to property or personal injury in the future the person affected could submit an insurance claim against the Council. The Ombudsman cannot decide legal claims about negligence. Only insurers or the courts can determine liability for negligence.

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Final decision

  1. We should not investigate this complaint. This is because there is insufficient evidence of fault which would warrant an investigation.

Investigator’s decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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