Decision : Closed after initial enquiries
Decision date : 27 Jul 2017
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate Mr B’s complaint about planning matters. Part of the complaint is late and there are not good enough reasons for exercising discretion to consider it and the Ombudsman would not normally criticise councils for reaching decisions which seem to be inconsistent with decisions they took at an earlier point in time.
- The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Mr B, complained about the way the Council dealt with planning matters. In particular, he feels the Council has victimised him.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- The Local Government Act 1974 sets out our powers but also imposes restrictions on what we can investigate.
- 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)
- We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word fault to refer to these. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We may decide not to start or continue with an investigation if we believe it is unlikely we would find fault. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- I have considered the information Mr B sent to the Ombudsman, his comments on my draft decision, the Council’s responses to his complaint and published information on the Council’s website.
What I found
- Mr B complained to the Council about the following matters:
- During his purchase of land he and his solicitor asked the Council nine times for information about its authorised use but he did not receive the information he asked for. This affected his decision on the purchase of the land.
- After he had completed the purchase of the land, the Council wrote to him in 2015 to tell him he had to take action to address unauthorised development. Mr B responded to the Council’s letter but the Council failed to reply to him.
- The Council had recently approved development by his neighbour. But when he lived in that property he had applied to carry out the same work and the Council had refused permission.
- In response to the first part of Mr B’s complaint the Council said its records show in 2014 it received four written requests for pre-application advice for the land in question. But none of these were made by Mr B or his solicitor. The Council said, if it receives telephone enquiries, its practice is to advise customers to put their request in writing. The Council told Mr B it always recommends, when purchasing any land, solicitors handling the conveyancing carry out a full land search to establish the land use and classification.
- The Local Government Act 1974 requires people to complain to the Ombudsman within 12 months about something a Council has or has not done. Mr B’s complaint about what happened in the land purchase process is late. The Ombudsman can exercise discretion to investigate late complaints if there are good reasons to do so. There are not good enough reasons for the Ombudsman to investigate this part of Mr B’s complaint. The lack of written records and the lapse of time mean the Ombudsman could not now investigate it effectively.
- In response to Mr B’s second complaint the Council accepted it should apologise for not replying to his letter and for not confirming his response was satisfactory so it had closed the case. Mr B’s complaint to the Ombudsman about this issue is late. There are not good reasons for the Ombudsman to investigate this part of Mr B’s complaint because the Council has accepted it was at fault and it should apologise.
- The third part of Mr B’s complaint is that the Council has reached inconsistent decisions on the same development proposals. Mr B could have appealed to the planning inspector against the decision on his application if he thought there were grounds to do so. The Ombudsman normally expects people to use their right of appeal. But Mr B says said at that time he had nothing on which to base his complaint. He says the Council has not reached a fair decision regardless of the time lapse between the two applications.
- It would be very rare for two separate applications to be identical in every specific detail. And in any case local and national planning policies do alter over time. So the Ombudsman would not normally criticise councils for reaching decisions which seem to be inconsistent with decisions they took at an earlier point in time. There is no evidence the Council’s actions amount to victimisation of Mr B.
- The Ombudsman will not investigate Mr B’s complaint because part of it is late and there are not good enough reasons for exercising discretion to consider it and the Ombudsman would not normally criticise councils for reaching decisions which seem to be inconsistent with decisions they took at an earlier point in time.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman