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Lancashire County Council (21 001 262)

Category : Other Categories > Land

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 22 Nov 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr P complains the Council failed to adhere to rules concerning his right to purchase land the Council previously acquired from his grandparents in 1998. He also complains the Council did not give him enough time to purchase the land and that it did not have regard to an independent valuation. We have not found any evidence of fault by the Council. Further, parts of Mr P’s complaint are late and there are no good reasons to exercise discretion and investigate.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, who I refer to as Mr P, is making a complaint about the actions of the Council with respect to land it acquired from his grandfather. Specifically, Mr P alleges the following:
      1. The Council failed to adhere to the Chrichel Down Rules which govern the procedures around the purchase of land acquired by local authorities.
      2. The Council incorrectly valued the land when seeking to resell it and did not have regard to the views of an independent third-party valuer.
      3. The Council failed to give him a reasonable amount of time to purchase the land from the Council.
      4. The Council required him to pay £22,000 for a small parcel of land in his garden which he says amounted to duress.
  2. Mr P wants the Council to acknowledge its failings in this case and address that it took money from him under duress.

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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/care provider has done. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26B and 34D, as amended).
  3. If we are satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, we can complete our investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended).
  4. 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).

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have reviewed Mr P’s complaint to the Council and Ombudsman. I have also had regard to the responses of the Council and applicable guidance and legislation. I invited both Mr P and the Council to comment on a draft of my decision. I considered the Council’s comments, but Mr P did not respond to my draft decision and has not been contactable for the duration of our investigation.

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My findings

Background information

  1. The Crichel Down (CD) Rules are rules that guide how public authorities should dispose of land previously acquired by compulsory acquisition, or land acquired under the threat of compulsory purchase. They are to be applied by any public body disposing of land that was acquired for a purpose for which the authority had compulsory purchase powers at the time of acquisition, whether or not those powers were relied on to acquire the land.
  2. Where the CD Rules apply, the relevant public body should, as a general principle, give the previous owner of the land (or their successors) an opportunity to repurchase any land that was previously acquired. The price for the offer back to the former owner or their successors should be current market value.
  3. If the former owner (or their successor) is not interested in repurchasing the land, then (if applicable) the land should be offered to any former tenant of a long lease. Only once the land has been offered back to the former owner and then (if applicable) the former tenant (and both offers have been declined) should the land be offered for sale on the open market.

Chronology of events

  1. In 1998, the Council acquired land belonging to Mr P’s grandparents. The land was purchased by agreement for a prospective road scheme.
  2. In 2009, Mr P became eligible to purchase the land-back under the CD Rules in the event of it being offered for sale by the Council. This is because he was the beneficiary of his grandparents estate.
  3. In 2017, the purchased land became surplus to the Council’s requirements and so it nominated it for sale.
  4. In 2018, Mr P instructed solicitors to claim from the Council approximately 11 acres of agricultural land and 800 square metres of garden land. However, he later confirmed his intention to purchase the land under the CD Rules.
  5. In late 2019, Mr P confirmed the terms of the land sale were acceptable to him which led to a negotiation on the purchase price. The Council offered to sell the agricultural land for £250,000 and the garden land for £22,500. Mr P subsequently agreed to purchase the garden land only, on the basis that he thought the agricultural land was too expensive.
  6. In June 2020, further negotiations with Mr P resulted in the Council reducing the sale price to £250,000 for both the land and garden area.
  7. In September 2020, Mr P confirmed he would purchase the land and garden area, though said he would need to purchase the land in his company’s name. The Council then approved the sale of the land to Mr P’s company and the garden area to him in his own name.
  8. Over the next few months, the Council said there were a number of missed deadlines for the Mr P to complete the sale. The Council said this led to it providing a final ultimatum to Mr P to complete the purchase.
  9. In February 2021, Mr P’s solicitor advised that he cannot proceed with the agricultural land purchase due to the withdrawal of a financial backer. However, Mr P was still willing to complete the purchase of the garden area for £22,500.
  10. In March 2021, the sale of the garden land to Mr P completed.
  11. In April 2021, the Council placed the agricultural land on the open market. It was sold a month later at market value to a third party.

My assessment

  1. By law, I cannot investigate any complaint made more than 12 months of the complainant becoming aware of the problem, unless there are good reasons to exercise discretion in this respect.
  2. In summary, Mr P confirmed his intention to purchase the agricultural and garden land under the CD Rules in 2018. In late 2019, Mr P became aware of the purchase price for the land, though agreed to only purchase the garden land. There were subsequently further negotiations relating to price until mid-2020. On the face it, Mr P’s complaint concerning the application of the CD Rules and purchase price is late. This is because the application of the CD Rules and the Council’s offer relating to the purchase price became apparent in 2018 and 2019, respectively. I must therefore consider whether there are good reasons to exercise discretion and disapply the time limits.
  3. In my view, this is a historical complaint which would be difficult to investigate given the number of years which has lapsed since Mr P became eligible to purchase the land under the CD Rules. I believe there would be practical difficulties which would limit our ability to investigate the above issues. Further, I have considered whether there are good reasons why Mr P did not complain to us sooner. I made a number of attempts to contact Mr P relating to this matter, but I did not receive a response. In my view, Mr P could have complained to us sooner, though preferred to explore negotiation with the Council through his solicitors.
  4. I will not investigate Mr P’s complaint about the application of the CD Rules or the initial amount offered by the Council for the land. This is because these parts of the complaint are late and there are no good reasons why we should disapply the restriction I describe at paragraph five relating to time limits.
  5. In addition, I note Mr P says the Council did not give him enough time to purchase all the land subject to the negotiations. Further, he says the Council failed to have due regard to an independent valuation for the land and, in effect, forced him to purchase the garden land at £22,500. Mr P had nearly three years to negotiate the purchase of the land and there is no requirement in the CD Rules that state the Council must have regard to an independent valuation. I have not seen any evidence of fault by the Council in respect of these matters, or that Mr P was forced to purchase the garden land. Importantly, I have been unable to contact Mr P to gain any additional information about these issues to assist my investigation.

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Final decision

  1. I cannot investigate Mr P’s complaint that the Council was wrong in its application of the CD Rules, or the purchase price the Council offered to sell the land at. This is because this part of the complaint is late and there are no good reasons to exercise discretion and investigate. Further, I have not seen any evidence of fault by the Council in relation to the further aspects of Mr P’s complaint.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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