Hackney Council was heavily criticised by the Ombudsman in three reports for failing to take enforcement action on planning breaches over several years.
The complaints were made by residents about the Council’s failure over periods of three to four years to deal with unauthorised works carried out to properties adjoining their homes. The Ombudsman found the Council to be at fault in failing to take enforcement action and recommended in each case that it pay compensation of £500 as well as ensuring any outstanding enforcement action was now dealt with without delay.
While recognising that the Council has taken action to sort out the problems with planning enforcement and is addressing its backlog, the Ombudsman said that would be of little comfort to the complainants, who have had to endure years of distress, inconvenience and uncertainty.
“There were very serious failures, with delays in taking action of several years. It is fair to say the planning department was in a state of complete disarray,” he said.
In one case, the completed development was a pair of two-storey semi-detached houses in the rear garden, linked by a single-storey lobby area to the frontage development which itself had been extended by a large two-storey extension. The Council did take enforcement action and the developer was eventually prosecuted in the magistrates’ court and fined £20,000, but there were delays amounting to two years.
The other two cases concerned the conversion of old properties into flats where either there was no planning permission or works were done which went beyond what had been authorised. The Council had been aware of unauthorised work since 2002 but, despite carrying out some investigations, had failed to take action. One case was eventually resolved in July 2006, the other remains unresolved.
The Council accepted that it had faced major problems and has struggled with a problem of unauthorised development which appears to be endemic. For some time there were only two permanent enforcement officers, both of whom had lengthy periods of sick leave. In 2002 the Council did not take any enforcement action. There were significant delays and a backlog of 1500 cases occurred. The Ombudsman said it was encouraging to note that the Planning Service had been completely restructured and the enforcement section doubled in size, with a Backlog Team of five officers working its way through the old cases. It is expected to deal with 80 cases a month.
Three complaint ref nos: 05A12349, 05A10374, 06A03393