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North Devon District Council (21 012 578)

Category : Planning > Enforcement

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 05 Jan 2022

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: We will not investigate this complaint about the Council’s response to planning issues raised by Ms X in connection with a property next door to hers. This is because we are unlikely to find evidence of fault sufficient to warrant an investigation.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, who I refer to as Ms X, says Council officers gave her confusing, incorrect and misleading information; failed to engage with her; expected her as a member of the public to have the same level of knowledge as a planning officer and delayed in responding to her complaint about planning matters concerning the property next door to her property.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’, which we call ‘fault’. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse effect on the person making the complaint, which we call ‘injustice’. We provide a free service but must use public money carefully. We may decide not to start an investigation if the tests set out in our Assessment Code are not met. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
  2. 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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered information provided by Ms X and the Council’s responses to her complaint.
  2. I considered the Ombudsman’s Assessment Code.

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My assessment

  1. Ms X raised concerns with the Council about development which had taken place at the property next door to hers, and particularly about matters relating to an extension which had been built without planning permission about 15 years before she bought her property.
  2. The Council responded in detail to the concerns raised by Ms X. It explained that it relied on members of the public to report unauthorised development but that it was too late for it to take action in relation to the extension now due to the passage of time.
  3. The Council explained various aspects of the planning process, acknowledging that planning laws and processes are complex and informing Ms X that local planning authorities do not involve themselves in party wall and civil law matters.
  4. While the Council delayed in responding to Stage 2 of Ms X’s complaint, it apologised for this and there is no evidence of fault sufficient to warrant an investigation by the Ombudsman.
  5. The restriction highlighted at paragraph 3 applies to past events and as we would reasonably have expected Ms X to have raised an earlier complaint, we will not consider them now.

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Final decision

  1. We will not investigate Ms X’s complaint because we are unlikely to find evidence of fault sufficient to warrant an investigation.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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