Isle of Wight Council officers approved a plan for the use of new beach huts without checking that it complied with councillors’ instructions.
The Ombudsman said: “Councillors decided this application on the basis that officers would consult the public on the management plan. It may be that, if consultation had taken place, the same management plan would be approved. We shall never know.”
She added: “Public confidence in councils is damaged where officers do not act in line with the instructions given by councillors in committee. The Council failed to carry out a clear instruction from councillors. No checks or balances in the process alerted the case officer or senior officers to this failing.”
The Council granted planning permission for 14 beach huts, imposing conditions on hours of occupation and forbidding use of the huts between October and March. Another condition required a management plan to be approved by the Council before the beach buts could be used. This plan would govern hours of use, the extent of the season and conditions for use of the huts as daytime accommodation.
The Council stipulated that a formal public consultation be undertaken on the management plan. However, when the developers submitted their plan, Council officers approved it without consulting residents. Nobody checked the committee minutes to confirm that councillors’ instructions were complied with.
The plan included a stipulation requiring owners ““...to comply at all times with the conditions of any planning permission...”, however the complainant considers that, as planning conditions may be appealed, there is potential for changes to the conditions in future. She feels that the management plan gives less protection that it would if the conditions were included.
The Ombudsman could not conclude that the management plan would have been different had residents been consulted, but they are left not knowing for certain if the outcome would have been different.
The Ombudsman found maladministration causing injustice and the Council agreed to:
- apologise to the complainant and pay her £250 for the time and inconvenience in pursuing the complaint, and for the lost opportunity to influence the decision
- ensure its new procedure means that, in future, minutes are checked and a note made of that check before signing off compliance with conditions, and
- take the results of its review on compliance monitoring to councillors for comment.
Remedy agreed prior to report publication: 12 December 2012