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Durham County Council (20 007 288)

Category : Planning > Other

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 01 Jun 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Ms D says the Council failed to consider lower cost quotes for the demolition of a property. The Ombudsman has not found evidence of fault and has completed the investigation and not upheld the complaint.

The complaint

  1. The complainant (whom I refer to as Ms D) says the Council failed to consider a lower quote she obtained for the demolition of a property owned by her late parent and in which she had a leasehold interest.
  2. Ms D also refers to Freedom of Information request issues and is unhappy with the Notice of Demolition issued by the Council in 2020.

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What I have investigated

  1. I am looking solely at whether the Council considered a lower cost quote for the demolition works. I explain below why I am not investigating the other matters.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. The Information Commissioner's Office considers complaints about freedom of information. Its decision notices may be appealed to the First Tier Tribunal (Information Rights). So, where we receive complaints about freedom of information, we normally consider it reasonable to expect the person to refer the matter to the Information Commissioner.
  2. 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
  • it is unlikely further investigation will lead to a different outcome.

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

  1. We cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), as amended)
  2. If we are satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, we can complete our investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have considered the information provided by Ms D. I asked the Council questions and examined its response. A lot of the data supplied by the Council is confidential and so cannot be detailed in this statement. I am satisfied I have seen all necessary evidence from the Council.
  2. I shared my draft decision with both parties.

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What I found

What happened

  1. Ms D’s late parent owned a building which was derelict by 2019. Ms D had a leasehold interest in part of the site. The Council was in contact with the Estate Solicitor in 2019 about the need to either repair or demolish the building. Ms D obtained a quote for demolition costs (£18,000) however the Estate Solicitor confirmed to the Council in January 2020 that Ms D would not be contracting any works.
  2. The Council then assessed the building further and it was collapsing and dangerous. In May the Council’s Planning Development Manager considered an Officer’s report for the demolition of the building. The work would be carried out by a contractor already approved and listed by the Council for the provision of demolition services. The cost was around £49,000. The building was demolished at the end of May.
  3. Ms D has since been in contact with the Council disputing why the works were not cheaper.

What should have happened

  1. Under the Council’s contract procurement rules (which take account of the Public Contracts Regulations 2015) it carried out a tender process prior to 2019 for a “Framework for Demolition”. This meant the Council invited contractors to submit a tender using a set process and answering technical questions. The Council then assessed the bids, and each was given a 60% weighting for price. The final evaluation scores were listed highest scoring to lowest. The Council chose the top six contractors to provide future demolition services, including urgent/ emergency works.
  2. Where the Council finds a building is dangerous and in need of demolition it will see if the owner (or Estate Solicitor) can instruct a contractor to carry out works. If this is not possible the Council has a duty to protect public safety and will consider instructing one of its approved contractors. It will set out why the works are needed. This is approved by a Senior Officer and the contractor will be instructed to carry out the demolition.

Was there fault by the Council

  1. Ms D says the Council should have considered using the contractors who provided her with a quote of £18,000 to demolish the building. There is no fault by the Council in this matter. The quote obtained by Ms D was for her personal use should she have employed contractors to do the works. There was no duty on the Council to employ those contractors and indeed it would have been at fault had it done so. The Council must use an approved contractor which it has already assessed as suitable and value for money to carry out demolitions. The evidence shows me the Council adhered to its procedures. I appreciate Ms D disagrees with the Council’s decision. The Ombudsman will not question the merits of such decisions which are taken without fault.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed the investigation and not upheld the complaint.

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Parts of the complaint that I did not investigate

  1. Ms D refers to FOI issues, these are for the Information Commissioner not the Ombudsman.
  2. I have already advised Ms D I am not investigating her complaint about the Notice of Demolition. That is because the Notice was served without fault and there is no evidence of potential fault to warrant further consideration.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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