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South Oxfordshire District Council (17 018 704)

Category : Planning > Enforcement

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 28 Mar 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate Mr X’s complaint about the Council’s handling of its enforcement case against him. Mr X has appealed against the enforcement notice and it is unlikely we could achieve anything for him by investigating the conduct of the council officer at the public inquiry.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Mr X, complains about the Council’s handling of a planning enforcement matter.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. 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, or
  • the fault has not caused injustice to the person who complained, or
  • the injustice is not significant enough to justify our involvement, or
  • it is unlikely we could add to any previous investigation by the Council, or
  • it is unlikely further investigation will lead to a different outcome, or
  • we cannot achieve the outcome someone wants, or
  • there is another body better placed to consider this complaint, or
  • it would be reasonable for the person to ask for a council review or appeal.

(Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)

  1. The law says we cannot normally investigate a complaint when someone can appeal to a government minister. We may decide to investigate if we consider it would be unreasonable to expect the person to appeal but cannot investigate if the person has already appealed. (Local Government Act 1974, section 26(6)(b))
  2. The Planning Inspector acts on behalf of the responsible Government minister. The Planning Inspector considers appeals about:
  • delay – usually over eight weeks – by an authority in deciding an application for planning permission
  • a decision to refuse planning permission
  • conditions placed on planning permission
  • a planning enforcement notice.
  1. The law says we cannot normally investigate a complaint when someone could take the matter to court. However, we may decide to investigate if we consider it would be unreasonable to expect the person to go to court. (Local Government Act 1974, section 26(6)(c), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I reviewed the details of Mr X’s complaint and the Planning Inspectorate’s decision on his appeal. I shared my draft decision with Mr X and invited his comments.

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What I found

  1. The Council issued Mr X an enforcement notice for a breach of planning control in 2017. Mr X appealed to the Planning Inspectorate, which held a public inquiry.
  2. Mr X complains about the council officer’s handling of the enforcement case against him and about his conduct at the inquiry. He says the officer made inappropriate comments about him which were reported to the local press.
  3. The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint as it is unlikely we could achieve anything for Mr X. Because Mr X appealed against the Council’s enforcement notice any complaint about the officer’s handling of the case falls outside our jurisdiction. If Mr X felt the enforcement officer had made inappropriate comments at the inquiry it would have been for Mr X to challenge these and ask the Planning Inspector to disregard them.
  4. If Mr X believes the council officer’s comments at the public inquiry have damaged his reputation he may wish to seek legal advice about a possible claim for defamation. The Ombudsman will not investigate this issue as it is more appropriate for consideration by the courts.

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Final decision

  1. The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint. This is because it is unlikely we could achieve anything for Mr X.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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