Parks, gardens, playing fields and sportsgrounds

This fact sheet is aimed primarily at people who live near or use council parks, gardens, playing fields and sports grounds and who may be considering making a complaint to the Ombudsman.

I have a problem with the decisions the council has made about our local park/garden/playing field. Can the Ombudsman help?

In a few cases, yes. There are some matters we cannot look at by law. We cannot deal with a complaint that affects all or most people living within the council area. By “most”, we mean the majority of people living in the area. Many decisions that a council takes about its parks, gardens and sports grounds are likely to fall into this category. We would not, for example, consider a matter where the person complaining felt that a particular council project was a “waste of public money”.

The law also says that we cannot investigate matters which relate to contractual or commercial transactions. This includes complaints about the provision of entertainment such as, for example, complaints about the performance of a play in memorial gardens or a festival in a local park.

You can complain to the Ombudsman if the circumstances particularly affect you, above and beyond what the general public might suffer, and you live close by or use the park, garden or sports facility on a very regular basis.

How do I complain?

You should normally complain to the council first. Councils often have more than one stage in their complaints procedure and you will usually have to complete all stages before we will look at your complaint.

Then, if you are unhappy with the outcome, or the council is taking too long to look into the matter – we think 12 weeks is reasonable – you can complain to us.

You should normally make your complaint to us within 12 months of realising that the council has done something wrong.

For more information on how to complain, visit our contact page or complete an online complaint form.

If you can consider my complaint what will the Ombudsman look for?

We consider whether the council has done something wrong in the way it went about deciding what actions to take about the parks/gardens/playing fields/sports grounds in its control and whether those decisions caused you problems.

Some of the issues we can look at are if the council:

  • did not take into account, or give proper reasons for not following, relevant law, policy or guidance
  • failed to take into account the effects of its decisions on the residents living nearby or people who used the facility on a very regular basis
  • acted very unreasonably
  • wrongly allocated football or other pitches
  • dealt wrongly with some entrance fees, fees for hiring the ground, or operations in a park.

What happens if the Ombudsman finds the council was at fault?

It depends on the nature of the fault and what the consequences are for you. If the effect on you is significant we may:

  • recommend that the council takes steps to address the problem
  • ask for compensation for the time, trouble or expense you have been put to in pursuing your complaint, and
  • where we find fault with the council’s procedures, we will often recommend that the council introduces changes so that the same problem does not happen again in the future.

Examples of some complaints we have considered

Mr A was banned for life from using the park because he had been continually haranguing and criticising council staff as they went about their duties in the park. Understandably, the council staff found this distressing and the Ombudsman agreed that the council was entitled to take steps to ensure staff were not treated in this way. But the Ombudsman also felt that a lifetime ban was excessive and asked the council to consider a more appropriate sanction. The council agreed to review the matter in 12 months. When it did this, Mr A was allowed back into the park.
Mr B complained that a council had allowed a temporary building on land that had been given to the local community. The permission was for the building of a “round the world yacht” and also featured a visitors’ centre. The council gave permission for it to be in place for about 15 months. Mr B felt that it was an eyesore and that it infringed residents’ rights to use and enjoy the land. But he did not live nearby, or even in the town where the temporary building had been put up and so could not prove that he was affected more than most of the residents in the area. The Ombudsman therefore decided that the matter was out of his jurisdiction and did not investigate further.
Mr C complained on behalf of the local Football Association that a council had changed the use of a pitch from football to rugby. The Ombudsman found that this had been done without proper consultation and without clear justification. He recommended reconsideration of the decision by a suitable committee including full consultation and an opportunity for the Football Association to put their case to retain the pitch. The council agreed to do this but ultimately settled the matter by arranging talks with interested parties and agreeing that another pitch would be used for football and the pitch which started off the complaint would be used for rugby.

Our fact sheets give some general information about the most common type of complaints we receive but they cannot cover every situation. If you are not sure whether we can look into your complaint, please contact us.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman provides a free, independent and impartial service. We consider complaints about the administrative actions of councils and some other authorities. We cannot question what a council has done simply because someone does not agree with it. If we find something has gone wrong, such as poor service, service failure, delay or bad advice and that a person has suffered as a result the Ombudsman aims to get it put right by recommending a suitable remedy.

 March 2013