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 a financial remedy 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 X complained to the council that the paths was around a local recreational area and cricket ground were overgrown. He is disabled and, because of the lack of maintenance, many of the paths were impassable on his mobility scooter. Mr X asked the council to review access to the area and replace benches around the cricket pitch. The council accepted the paths were significantly overgrown and agreed to restore them to their original width and ensure they were free from obstruction by March 2015. It also agreed to replace three benches. The council failed to complete the works and Mr X complained again several months later. The council then completed the agreed works and paid Mr X £100 in recognition of the time and trouble he was put to in pursuing the matter as a result of the delay in carrying out the works.
Mr Y complained about the council’s use of a playing field opposite his house as an overspill car park for a leisure centre. He said this was in breach of the planning approval for the leisure centre. Mr Y was unhappy that the council was issuing parking fines on the land and that local residents had lost the use of the field. Although Mr Y was unhappy about the use of the field as a car park, he was not caused a significant injustice by this so the Ombudsman decided not to investigate the complaint.

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.

 November 2019