The London Borough of Merton delayed over the redevelopment of a site where a new community facility was to be provided.
The Ombudsman said: “I consider that there were significant periods of inactivity by the Council in dealing with the sale of the land to [the developer],” which contributed to delays in a process resulting in planning permission finally being granted four years after the Council took the decision to redevelop the site in 2003. The new facility was still not built and local residents were left without amenities.
Whilst recognising that external factors also affect the nature of redevelopment projects, she added: “It is reasonable for local residents to have had an expectation that the community facility would have been available well before now and I consider that they have a justifiable sense of outrage in this respect.” She asked the Council to pay the Residents’ Association, who represented local people, £1,500 compensation.
In 2003 the Council decided that a community hall was surplus to its requirements. It proposed to make use of the capital value of the land to provide community facilities within a redeveloped site. The Residents’ Association complained about the way the Council then dealt with the project.
The Council’s partnership with the first two original bidders for the land did not progress as anticipated, but a bid from a third developer (called ‘Mr Z’ in the report for legal reasons) was accepted and a draft contract and lease issued by March 2006. A detailed planning application was submitted in August 2006 and planning permission granted subject to the completion of a section 106 agreement in April 2007.
A condition of the sale was that the development works had to be completed within 48 weeks of the sale. The Council can take action against the developer if the development is not completed by May 2012.
The Ombudsman did not uphold some other elements of the Residents’ Association complaint.
The Council paid £1,500 to the Residents' Association for ongoing uncertainty and outrage, as a contribution to the loss of amenity, and for their time and trouble in pursuing the complaint.
LGO satisfied with Council's response: 29 July 2011