The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr B complains about the Council’s failure over a number of years to protect certain building and heritage assets in the area where he lives. Mr B and his co-complainants have not suffered a significant personal injustice as a result of the issues about which they complain. Nor is it in the wider public interest to investigate the matters raised. I am not, therefore, going to investigate the complaint further
- Mr B complains about the Council’s failure over a number of years to protect certain building and heritage assets in the area where he lives. Mr B makes the complaint on behalf of 19 local residents who feel the same.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- 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 further investigation will lead to a different outcome, or
- we cannot achieve the outcome someone want.
(Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
- We can decide whether to start or discontinue an investigation into a complaint within our jurisdiction. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 24A(6) and 34B(8), as amended)
- 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)
How I considered this complaint
- I considered the complaint and spoke to Mr B. I sent a copy of a draft of this statement to Mr B and the Council and invited their comments
What I found
- Mr B complains the Council in exercising its planning role is failing to protect heritage assets in the town where he lives and it is not being protected from inappropriate development or loss of buildings. As a result heritage assets within the area have suffered harm. In support of his position he refers to three sites.
- Mr B is not personally affected by the development sites; his complaint is about the overall approach adopted by the Council. He says he is not alone in his concerns and that 21 other local people support his complaint. He considers the issues he raises are so serious that they should be investigated so the whole system and approach by the Council should be modified to ensure protection in the future.
- Our role is to investigate complaints of administrative fault that have caused significant personal injustice to the person bringing the complaint. We can consider complaints from groups or organisations but there is no formal established group here that has a particular interest in the area which is the subject of Mr B’s complaint. I do not therefore consider that the requirement for there to be a significant personal injustice is met in this case.
- If there is no significant personal injustice we can take a complaint if we consider it raises a matter of significant public interest. I understand Mr B is not alone in his concerns and others support his complaint. But the test here is that the matters at the heart of the complaint need to raise issues of significant public interest that would warrant our involvement. The Council has responded to the complaints Mr B has raised about the three specific sites. I have seen nothing that would suggest to me that there was some wider endemic problem or that the sites themselves are of such significance that the Ombudsman should become involved in the absence of personal injustice.
- Although I consider we should not pursue the complaints for the above reasons I should, for completeness, mention some other issues. Some of the matters Mr B refers to happened some time ago. We expect people to make a complaint to the Ombudsman within one year of them becoming aware of the matter. Some of the issues would not meet that requirement.
- Mr B asks that we should carry out an area review. Our role is to look at specific instances of fault that could have caused an injustice to the complainant. We do not carry out a review of Council’s functions across an area either geographical or by function.
- The Council has certain powers and duties. Other powers or duties could only be conferred by parliament. The Ombudsman could not increase the powers available to the Council. I consider it is unlikely that further investigation by the Ombudsman would find significant fault by the Council or achieve any worthwhile outcome.
- Mr B and his co-complainants have not suffered a significant personal injustice as a result of the issues about which they complain. Nor is it in the wider public interest to investigate the matters raised. I am not, therefore, going to investigate the complaint further.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman