London Borough of Barnet (17 011 820)

Category : Planning > Building control

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 16 Jan 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr X says the Council failed to exercise enough control over noise insulation works when a neighbouring property was being converted and so noise from that property has adversely affected him. There was fault by the Council because it gave Mr X a commitment that it would inspect noise insulation while building work was still in progress. It then did not inspect the noise insulation in the manner it committed to. The Council agreed to remedy the injustice to Mr X through a payment of £250 to Mr X.

The complaint

  1. Mr X says the Council failed to exercise enough control over noise insulation works when a neighbouring property was being converted and so noise from that property adversely affects him.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. The Ombudsman investigates complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word fault to refer to these. She must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. If there has been fault which has caused an injustice, she may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1))

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered an original complaint Mr X made about the Council’s environmental protection service. But that complaint also involved concerns about the building control team’s actions. I made enquiries of the Council and considered its comments on the actions of both departments. A separate complaint about building control was then registered after I considered the comments of the building control department. I sent draft decision statements to Mr X and the Council and considered the comments of both parties on it.

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What I found

  1. Mr X contacted his local councillors because of noise from a neighbouring property in May 2015. The property in question had been converted into two flats earlier that year. Mr X wanted the property inspected because he was dissatisfied with sound transmission from the property. Mr X said the property had not been properly soundproofed during the conversion works.
  2. The councillors passed Mr X’s query on to building control officers for a response.
  3. The building works were substantially done with inspections by an approved inspector and not the Council. The approved inspector served notice to the Council in May 2015 of their withdrawal from their inspection role because they had not been paid by the owner of the property. They had not issued a completion certificate so it fell to the Council to issue a completion certificate
  4. The building control manager responded to Mr X on 1 June 2015. The officer said the Council was initially the approved inspector during the works but the owner then decided to use a private approved inspector instead.
  5. The building control manager told Mr X he had discussed sound insulation at the property with the approved inspector. The approved inspector told him that plaster had been removed from the party wall with Mr X’s home and a dense cement render applied to the wall. The work was then finished with plasterboard on dabs.
  6. The manager told Mr X if that was the case then the work met the minimum standards contained in the building regulations.
  7. But the manager also said he had spoken with the approved inspector and the managing agents of the property and urged them to resubmit an initial notice. If they did not do so, the manager said the Council was likely to insist that parts of the development were opened up to check compliance with the regulations. The manager said the Council ‘would monitor the situation’ and if the procedural issues were not resolved then action would be taken to bring the property into compliance.
  8. Mr X says despite the last statement nothing happened.
  9. The Council provided me with a record of the inspections it carried out in July and November 2015.
  10. The July inspection note refers to a ‘sound test provided for compartment floor’. The November note refers to ‘copies of receipts for sound board fixed to party wall’ seen by the inspecting officer.
  11. The Council issued a completion certificate in November 2015.
  12. In its response to my enquiries, the Council pointed to an email of 24 February 2016 in which the building control manager said the Council checked the sound insulation and it met the minimum requirements of the building regulations. The Council referred to the earlier statement made by the manager about the insulation work and set out in paragraph 8 of this statement. The Council pointed out the inspecting officer visited the site in November 2015 and saw copies of receipts relating to a sound board fixed to the party wall.
  13. The Council said the construction within the neighbouring property would be brickwork of London yellow stock achieving a density of 1610Kg/m3. It says the notes state render was applied and sound board. These are dense materials and so it is satisfied the work complies with the building regulations.

Finding

  1. I find fault by the Council. The building control manager at the time made a commitment to Mr X that the Council would inspect the work to ensure compliance with the building regulations even though the manager accepted the word of the approved inspector about the materials used in terms of noise insulation. The manager clearly stated the Council would ask for resubmission of an initial notice and if it was not provided by the approved inspector or the property owner the Council would open up parts of the development to check compliance. I have not seen any evidence the Council asked for the initial notice or then physically inspected the construction work in the manner set out by the building control manager.
  2. Where we find fault by a local authority we must go on to consider the injustice caused to the complainant and a remedy for the injustice. Here, Mr X was concerned about noise insulation due to the conversion work and remains concerned. The Council may be correct to say the noise insulation meets the minimum building regulations standard but it could have addressed any uncertainty about this matter in 2015 by opening up the relevant parts of the development as stated by the building control manager. Had the Council kept to its commitment in 2015 there is also a chance the owner of the property could have been persuaded to go beyond the minimum building regulations standard.
  3. I recommended a payment of £250 to Mr X to reflect the Council’s failure to fulfil the commitment and the consequential distress suffered by Mr X. The Council agreed to remedy the injustice to Mr X.

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Final decision

  1. I found fault by the Council. I closed the complaint because the Council agreed to remedy the injustice caused to Mr X.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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