Decision : Upheld
Decision date : 27 Jun 2019
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr X says the Council unreasonably refused to issue him with a residents’ parking permit. There was fault by the Council because it did not update its website to make clear certain properties including Mr X’s home were not eligible for parking permits but it has since updated its website. The Council agreed to a financial remedy for Mr X to reflect the unnecessary time and trouble he was put to in pursuit of the matter.
- The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Mr X, says the Council unreasonably refused to issue him with a residents’ parking permit. Mr X wants the Council to make his property eligible for a parking permit.
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’. If there has been fault which has caused an injustice, we may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1), as amended)
- 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)
How I considered this complaint
- I reviewed the complaint and background information provided by Mr X and the Council. I discussed matters with Mr X by telephone. I sent a draft decision statement to Mr X and the Council. I considered the comments of both parties on it.
What I found
- The Council created a residents’ only parking zone that covers the street where Mr X now lives in 2007. The Traffic Regulation Order used to create the zone includes eligibility criteria which limits eligibility for parking permits to the properties which were in existence at the time the zone was created. The reason for the limitation was to protect the amenity of existing residents from expected future developments in the area.
- The Council granted planning permission for an application which proposed a change of use of existing buildings to residential use to form 20 apartments in 2015. The Council’s highway department was consulted as part of the application.
- The applicant had proposed provision of four parking spaces within the development. The proposed parking spaces were insufficient to meet the number of apartments and expected parking demand and so the highway department proposed creation of further parking spaces. However, the applicant proposed to offer prospective purchasers of the apartments car club memberships and to include a travel plan to encourage sustainable travel and reduce reliance on cars. This satisfied the highway department and so the department did not object to the application.
- The planning officer who dealt with the application noted these transport issues and included a condition that required the applicant to provide a travel plan setting out the car club, the number of parking spaces on site, public transport options, public car parks and walking to the Council before the first occupation of the units. This was condition 12.
- A further condition, condition 13, set out the parking spaces that would be made available to occupiers of the relevant apartments.
- Mr X purchased an apartment in or around 2017. Before making the purchase, Mr X says he checked whether his property was eligible for a parking permit and he was assured that it was. Mr X did not check the planning section of the website and did not read the Council’s decision, or the conditions attached to the decision.
- Mr X told me the vendor did not tell him about car club membership or any restriction on parking on street.
- Mr X then applied for a parking permit and successfully obtained one. A year later, he applied for a permit for a new car. This time the Council refused his application. The highway department by this time had updated the information it held on new or recent developments in the area. So, the department was now aware that Mr X’s property was not eligible for a parking permit. It changed the information on the Council’s website to show the new properties were ineligible for parking permits.
- Mr X says the Council’s action amounted to a change in the rules which required prior consultation with residents in the street. He says people who bought their properties and paid premiums because of the parking associated with the property should not be penalised for the Council’s unreasonable action of changing the rules without consultation.
- Mr X says it is unreasonable to expect him to have known the Council’s website contained inaccurate information when he checked on his eligibility for a parking permit.
- Mr X says there are no grounds for distinguishing between older residential properties and newer properties including his own within the permit zone. This is because his property is within a listed building which has been in existence since the 1800s and so the Council should have anticipated its potential for residential use when the TRO was created.
- Mr X says the Council issued them with permits and then withdrew the permits without consultation leading to devaluation of their properties along with personal and monetary distress. He says the decision is such an unreasonable one that no reasonable authority would consider making it. He wants the decision to be overturned.
- In terms of Mr X’s complaint that the Council ‘changed the rules without consultation’, I do not find the Council changed the rules as Mr X sees it. The TRO in place expressly limited eligibility for on street parking to existing properties and so there was no change in the rules. Rather the Council made the position on eligibility for parking permits clearer.
- I also do not find the Council acted unreasonably or in an unreasonable way that no other authority would. The issuance of permits to Mr X and others not normally eligible for the permits amounted to fault. The Council’s decision to withdraw the permit was then based on a correct assessment of eligibility.
- Following the grant of planning permission for development at Mr X’s building, the Council failed to update the parking services section of its website to make clear the new apartments on Mr X’s street were not eligible for parking permits as set out in the 2007 TRO. This was fault.
- The Council’s planning department published the details of the planning application on its website but did not include the planning officer’s report or the comments of the highway department. So, any prospective purchaser seeking to find out about eligibility for parking permits would not have been aware of the reasons for the Council’s decision without making further enquiries.
- In its response to my draft decision statement, the Council says planning reports are publicly available to view and are scanned for release on request. So, it does not consider it was at fault because the planning officer’s report or the comments of the highway department were not published online.
- While I do not find fault by the Council on this point I am concerned the Council chooses to follow a publication scheme that places a burden on the public to take steps to gather information that could be easily available on its website.
- When we find fault by a local authority, we must consider the injustice caused to the complainant and, if necessary, a remedy for the injustice. Our aim is to put the complainant back in the position he or she would have been in but for the identified fault.
- In this case, had the Council updated its website accordingly then Mr X would have known his property was not eligible for a parking permit. But there are other means by which Mr X would have found out about the restriction on eligibility. For instance, Mr X could have checked on the planning status of the property. The significance of the Council’s decision not to include the planning officer’s report on its website is reduced by the fact that Mr X did not check the planning status of his apartment before he purchased the property. Had Mr X or his solicitor done so then he arguably would have found out his property was not eligible for a parking permit.
- The vendor of the property could also have advised Mr X of the restrictions and the offer of a car club membership. The Council expected the vendor to do so as part of the proposed travel plan. This was included in a condition of the planning permission. Mr X says the vendor did not discuss these matters with him before he purchased his home. So, Mr X may have an actionable claim against the vendor.
- I accept the Council included inaccurate information on its website and this influenced Mr X’s decision to buy his home. However, I cannot conclude that this was the sole cause of the injustice suffered by Mr X. Mr X relied solely on the Council’s website for information. However, this is unfortunately a case of caveat emptor which is to say let the buyer beware.
- In terms of information on the planning section of the Council’s website, further enquiries by an interested party would be unnecessary if the Council acts in common with other local authorities by publishing the reports of the planning officers on the website.
- I find Mr X was put to unnecessary time and trouble through fault by the Council. This warrants a financial remedy. I recommended the Council makes a time and trouble payment of £100 to Mr X. The Council agreed to make the payment.
- There was fault by the Council in this case. The Council agreed to remedy the injustice to Mr X through a time and trouble payment of £100.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman