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Kirklees Metropolitan Borough Council (20 011 130)

Category : Environment and regulation > Trees

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 15 Mar 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: We will not investigate Mr Q’s complaint about the Council’s handling of applications for permission to do works to protected trees in a churchyard next to his home. Part of the complaint is late. And Mr Q has not suffered any personal injustice because of the Council’s handling of his neighbour’s application. Nor will we investigate Mr Q’s complaint that the Council did ground maintenance work in the churchyard at taxpayers’ expense. This is because we cannot investigate something that affects all or most of the people in the Council’s area.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I have called Mr Q, complained about Kirklees Metropolitan Borough Council’s handling of applications to do works to protected trees in a churchyard next to his home. In particular, Mr Q complained the Council treated the Church more favourably. Mr Q also complained the Council did ground maintenance work in the churchyard at taxpayers’ expense.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. The Local Government Act 1974 sets out our powers but also imposes restrictions on what we can investigate.
  2. We cannot investigate late complaints unless we decide there are good reasons. Late complaints are when someone takes more than 12 months to complain to us about something a council has done. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26B and 34D, as amended)
  3. We may decide not to start or continue with an investigation if we believe the fault has not caused injustice to the person who complained. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
  4. We cannot investigate something that affects all or most of the people in a council’s area. (Local Government Act 1974, section 26(7), as amended)
  5. It is not a good use of public resources to investigate complaints about complaint procedures if we are unable to deal with the substantive issue.

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered the information Mr Q and the Council provided. I considered information available on the Council’s website. I invited Mr Q to comment on a draft of this decision.

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What I found

Background

  1. If someone wants to fell or do works to trees which are protected by a Tree Protection Order (TPO) they must first get permission from the council to do so. If the council refuses to grant permission, the applicant can appeal to the Planning Inspectorate.

What happened

  1. Mr Q lives next door to a church. The churchyard contains a number of trees that are protected by a TPO. Some of the protected trees are along the boundary between the churchyard and neighbouring properties, including Mr Q’s property.
  2. In 2019 the Church applied for permission to do works to one of the protected trees along its boundary. The Council refused the application.
  3. In 2020 Mr Q applied for permission to do works to trees on his boundary with the churchyard. The Council granted his application.
  4. Also in 2020, Mr Q’s neighbour, Mr M, applied to the Council for permission to do works to trees on his boundary with the churchyard. The Council refused Mr M’s application.
  5. Mr Q complained to the Council about its handling of his neighbour’s application. He brought the complaint to us in 2021. He said the Council
  • treated the Church’s applications more favourably;
  • had done ground maintenance works in the churchyard at taxpayers’ expense;
  • when it decided Mr M’s application it wrongly said the damaged boundary wall had been repaired; and
  • it did not deal with his complaint about the matter properly.

Assessment

  1. We will not investigate this complaint.
  2. The Council refused the Church’s application to do work to a tree in 2019. Mr Q did not complain to us until 2021. So this part of the complaint is late and there are no good reasons for us to consider it now.
  3. The Council approved Mr Q’s application and so he was able to do the approved works to the trees affecting his boundary. However, any alleged fault by the Council in handling Mr M’s application did not cause Mr Q any personal injustice. It was open to Mr M to appeal to the Planning Inspectorate if he was unhappy with the Council’s decision.
  4. Mr Q said the Council did ground maintenance work in the churchyard at taxpayers’ expense. As this affects all or most of the people in the Council’s area we cannot investigate this part of the complaint.
  5. Finally, Mr Q complained about the Council’s handling of his complaint. As we are unable to deal with the substantive matters Mr Q complained of, it would not be a good use of public resources to investigate the Council’s handling of his complaint.

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Final decision

  1. We will not investigate Mr Q’s complaint for the reasons given in the Assessment.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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