The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr B complains the Council failed to ensure the country park and playing fields near his home are adequately maintained. The Ombudsman will discontinue this investigation. This is because the Council is in continuing legal talks with the tenant responsible for maintenance. The Council intends to hold a petition hearing to address residents’ concerns once these talks finish.
- The complainant, who I refer to here as Mr B, complains the country park and playing fields near his home have not been properly maintained. He complains the tenant who is responsible for upkeep (“the Tenant”), has allowed the area to fall into disrepair. He says the tenant did not regularly lock the car park gates at night to protect from antisocial behaviour and has now locked the gates indefinitely, preventing residents using the park. Mr B says neither the Tenant nor Council has responded to his complaints about the state of the park over a long period of time.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- 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)
- We can decide whether to start or discontinue an investigation into a complaint within our jurisdiction. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 24A(6) and 34B(8), as amended)
- 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)
How I considered this complaint
- I considered the information provided by Mr B and the Council. I then made further enquiries of both.
- I sent a copy of my draft decision to Mr B and the Council for their comments.
What I found
- Mr B has been concerned about the state of the country park and playing fields near his home for many years. He has regularly raised his concerns with the Council and the Tenant about the lack of maintenance park and other issues such as the locked gates. As outlined at Paragraph 3 above, the Ombudsman can normally only look into complaints about matters within the last 12 months. I have decided to investigate Mr B’s concerns from July 2017, when his more recent complaints were raised.
- Mr B has raised concerns with his local councillor several times in 2017 and 2018. He raised issues including that the Tenant has not cut the grass regularly and not locking the gates to the car park at night, which has invited antisocial behaviour. He says the Tenant then locked the car park gates indefinitely because of antisocial behaviour. Mr B has also complained the Tenant carried out works to build a car park without planning permission and left grass cuttings on the fields, leading to several fires.
- In late 2017 residents living in the area around the park signed a petition about the neglect of the park, which gained over 100 signatures. The petition was submitted to the Council, who responded to say they would consider the issues raised.
- Mr B chased for a response in early 2018. The Council said it was still considering the petition and would respond within two months.
- Around six weeks later Mr B made a formal complaint to the Council. He received a response saying the Council was in talks with the operator about the finer details of planning permission for improvements. No planning application has yet been submitted to the Council.
- In mid-2018 the Council started legal discussions with the Tenant about the maintenance of the park. These legal discussions are continuing. The Council published a public notice on its website outlining the action it is taking.
The Council’s aim was to hold a petition hearing in October 2018. The Council says it intends to hold the hearing once its talks with the Tenant have finished.
- The main part of Mr B’s complaint is about the lack of maintenance and general neglect of the park. The Tenant is responsible for maintaining the park in line with its tenancy obligations. The Council, as landlord, is responsible for ensuring the Tenant does maintain the park.
- This this is a long-standing issue for Mr B, but within the last 12 months, the Council has acted to address the issue by commencing legal discussions with the Tenant. It remains engaged in these discussions, so there has not yet been an outcome to the action the Council is taking. I am satisfied that it is inevitable such discussions may take time.
- Once the discussions have been concluded, the Council intends to hold a petition hearing. This will give residents and opportunity to discuss any concerns they still have.
- The Ombudsman will discontinue this investigation, because of the continuing legal discussions and likely petition hearing. If Mr B still has concerns after these matters have finished, or the Council fails to come to a conclusion within six months he will be able to make a further complaint.
- The Ombudsman will discontinue this investigation. This is because the Council is in continuing legal talks with the tenant responsible for maintenance. The Council intends to hold a petition hearing to address residents’ concerns once these talks finish.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman