Decision : Closed after initial enquiries
Decision date : 04 Aug 2020
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint about delay in determining the complainant’s planning applications. The complainant had a right of appeal to a Minister and could seek a remedy in court
- The complainant, who I refer to here as Company Y, has complained about delay by the Council in dealing with planning applications and the Council’s handling of its complaint about this.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- The Local Government Act 1974 sets out our powers but also imposes restrictions on what we can investigate.
- The law says we cannot normally investigate a complaint when someone can appeal to a government minister. However, we may decide to investigate if we consider it would be unreasonable to expect the person to appeal. (Local Government Act 1974, section 26(6)(b))
- The courts have decided this restriction applies to our jurisdiction even if an appeal would not provide a remedy for all the claimed injustice. (R v The Commission for Local Administration ex parte Colin Field (1999) EWHC Admin 754)
- 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)
- We provide a free service but must use public money carefully. It is not a good use of public resources to investigate complaints about peripheral matters, such as complaint procedures, if we cannot deal with the substantive issue. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- I have considered what Company Y said in its complaint. Company Y commented on a draft before I made this decision.
What I found
- In summary, Company Y submitted planning applications to the Council in August 2018. The Council determined one application in July 2019 and the other in February 2020. Company Y says it suffered substantial financial losses as result of delay by the Council.
- Company Y had a statutory right of appeal to the Minister for Housing, Communities and Local Government if the Council did not determine the applications within 13 weeks. Such appeals are decided by the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) on behalf of the Minister.
- While Company Y did not appeal to PINS, I have seen no reason it could not have done so. This is clearly how Parliament intends delay in determining planning applications should be dealt with. I consider any complaint about such delay is outside our jurisdiction for the reasons given in paragraphs 3 and 4.
- Further, Company Y has provided documents showing it has begun, or is planning to begin, legal proceedings against the Council. It therefore seems likely the restriction I describe in paragraph 5 also applies. Even if it has not yet taken court action, it is clear Company Y is prepared to do so. Given the amount Company Y is seeking from the Council, this appears to be a reasonable course of action for it to take.
- As the substantive issues are outside our jurisdiction, we will not investigate any peripheral matters such as how the Council has dealt with Company Y’s complaint.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman