Decision : Closed after initial enquiries
Decision date : 10 Mar 2017
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint about the Council’s decision not to sell some land to the complainant. This is because there is insufficient evidence of fault by the Council.
- The complainant, whom I refer to as Mr X, complains that the Council will not sell some land to him.
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’. We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We may decide not to start an investigation if we believe it is unlikely we would find fault. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
- 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)
How I considered this complaint
- I read the complaint and the Council’s response. I considered the local plan. I spoke to Mr X after he received a draft of this decision.
What I found
- The local plan has designated the land which Mr X wants to buy as a Green Space. It is a grassed area designed to give the area a village rather than urban feel. It is protected from development unless there are very special circumstances.
- Mr X found a pocket of land which would be suitable for a family member to keep a pony. The land is owned by the Council.
- Mr X started the application process and paid a £400 fee. He says the Council’s initial response was positive. However, the Council then decided not to sell the land. It also decided not to lease the land to Mr X. It had a site meeting with Mr X to explain its reasons. It refunded the £400.
- Mr X complained. He said that selling the land would secure extra money which could be spent for the benefit of the community and reduce the Council’s maintenance costs. In response the Council explained that it had not put the land up for sale and it had not had any plans to sell it. It said that after it received his application it did further checks and realised that the land is a designated green space. It said that it could best protect the land for the benefit of the community by retaining ownership. It said it was regrettable that the restriction was not identified when Mr X made his first approach but it is not unusual for restrictions to emerge as the purchase process continues.
- Mr X disagrees with the Council’s response. He says the Council was unaware it owned the land. He also says the land is under-used, cannot easily be seen and means the Council has to pay maintenance costs. Mr X is willing to pay market value for the land and says the money would benefit the village.
- I will not start an investigation because there is insufficient evidence of fault by the Council. The land that Mr X wants to buy is owned by the Council. It is up to the Council to decide whether it can, or will, sell it. It is not the place of the Ombudsman to interfere. The Ombudsman does not act as an appeal body and cannot intervene simply because a council makes a decision that someone disagrees with. The Ombudsman also does not act as an advocate for people, however strongly someone might hold a view.
- In addition, the Council has explained why it will not sell the land and its decision is consistent with the local plan. It also refunded the application fee to Mr X. I appreciate Mr X disagrees with the Council but that does not mean the Council has done anything wrong.
- I will not start an investigation because there is insufficient evidence of fault by the Council.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman