Guildford Borough Council (16 004 725)

Category : Planning > Planning advice

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 11 Aug 2016

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate Mr and Mrs B’s complaint about the Council’s response to their request for planning advice. This is because too much time has passed since the events complained about and it is unlikely an investigation would result in the Ombudsman finding the Council was at fault.

The complaint

  1. The complainants, who I will refer to as Mr and Mrs B, complain that they paid £360 for a planning advice service which the Council has not provided. Mr and Mrs B would like the Council to refund the fee they paid.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. The Ombudsman investigates complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word fault to refer to these. She must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. If there has been fault which has caused an injustice, she may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1))
  2. The Ombudsman has the power to start or discontinue an investigation into a complaint within her jurisdiction. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 24A(6) and 34B(8))

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have considered Mr and Mrs B’s letter of complaint and the documents they sent which include the Council’s responses to their complaint. I have also considered Mr and Mrs B’s response to my draft decision.

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What I found

  1. Until recently the Council provided a pre application enquiry service. The service allowed planning applicants to get planning advice from the Council about a proposed development before putting in a full planning application. The Council charged £360 for this service.
  2. In September 2014 Mr and Mrs B put in a pre application enquiry to the Council and paid the fee of £360. In response, the Council wrote to Mr and Mrs B on 24 October 2014. The letter set out the Council’s concerns about the proposed development and provided advice about what to do next.
  3. Mr and Mrs B say before they put in their pre application enquiry the Council had promised them a site meeting. Mr and Mrs B say since then they have been phoning the Council every month and the Council kept telling them it would arrange a site meeting. But, the Council has recently told them that the case is closed and it had responded to their pre application enquiry in its letter of 24 October 2014.
  4. Mr and Mrs B complained to the Council about the failure to arrange a site meeting and asked the Council for a refund of the fee they paid. The Council has responded to the complaint but does not accept it was at fault. The Council said for certain proposals, such as Mr and Mrs B’s, a written response may be sent rather than a meeting. The Council also said it was not aware they had made any requests for a meeting after the case was closed in October 2014.

Assessment

  1. I have decided to exercise the Ombudsman’s discretion not to start an investigation into Mr and Mrs B’s complaint. I find it would have been open to Mr and Mrs B to have complained to the Ombudsman before now. But, in any case, it is unlikely the Ombudsman could make sound findings about whether the Council misled Mr and Mrs B by promising a meeting before they put in their pre application enquiry. This is because too much time has passed since the events complained about and it is unlikely an investigation would result in the Ombudsman finding the Council was at fault.

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Final decision

  1. I will not investigate Mr and Mrs B’s complaint because it is unlikely an investigation would result in the Ombudsman finding the Council was at fault.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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