The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has criticised a national park authority for the way it adopted a policy to charge residents for planning enforcement action.
North York Moors National Park Authority (NPA) decided to make a charge to recover some costs when taking enforcement action.
A couple complained to the Ombudsman that the NPA had charged them for enforcing a planning notice.
The Ombudsman’s investigation has found the NPA at fault for the way it made the decision to introduce the charge, and for not properly advising members of the legal and administrative basis on which it decided it was entitled to introduce it.
When the authority introduced the policy in 2014, and when it re-confirmed its position a year later, it took legal advice that found no clear legislation providing for local planning authorities to recover enforcement costs, and no case law on the issue.
Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman said:
“In making policy decisions authorities should show a level of evidence reflecting the importance of the issue, and I would expect it to be meticulous for a decision as contentious as charging for planning enforcement.
“In this case, North York Moors National Park Authority’s decision was based on an inconclusive legal opinion and did not take into account all the relevant factors.
“I would expect a decision of this nature to receive thorough scrutiny. But the full implications of the authority’s proposal were not properly communicated to members, so it is questionable how informed their decision making could have been.
“We are also concerned the authority’s rationale for the decision shifted over time – rather than a robust, risk-based decision it appears it sought to justify a desired policy objective on limited and uncertain grounds.”
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s role is to remedy injustice and share learning from investigations to help improve public, and adult social care, services.
In this case the NPA has suspended the policy, cancelled the charges made under the policy and issued a refund to any others that have paid.
It should now also apologise to the couple for not properly considering the basis of the charge and for not explaining the basis for that charge.
Article date: 17 October 2018