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 some 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. Some decisions that a council takes about its parks, gardens and sports grounds may fall into this category. 

However, 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.

Usually, you should complain to us within 12 months of when you first knew about the problem. If you leave it any later, we may not be able to help.

For more information on how to complain, please read our step by step process

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 and trouble 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 Y complained about the council’s response to his concerns about a pool area at a country park. He says the council failed to maintain the area and the path could no longer be enjoyed by park users. He asked the council to carry out repairs to keep the path open. The council visited the site and decided it was not economically viable to invest in improvements to the path as the area was prone to flooding and erosion and it would allow ‘nature to take its course’. The Ombudsman found no fault in the way the council reached its decision. It sought advice and considered the available options. In these circumstances, there were no grounds to question the decision.
Mr X complained that the council had failed to properly maintain the condition of the green at the bowls club where he is a member. He said the green had deteriorated to the point where it was used less, the normal level of enjoyment was not possible, and some members had left to play at other clubs. The council accepted the green did not look its best following a hot, dry summer but said it provided a playable surface and the club had fulfilled all its fixtures. The council has no records of the maintenance carried out but provided a document showing its usual maintenance schedule which includes mowing two or three times a week and other less frequent tasks such as watering and feeding the green. The Ombudsman decided there was no fault in the council’s maintenance of the green which remained playable even though the hot, dry weather meant its condition was not as members or the council would have liked.

Mr G complained that the council failed to consult with Sport England before approving a planning application for development next to the home ground of a cricket club he represents. This meant the development was constructed without measures to mitigate the risk of damage from cricket balls. The Ombudsman decided the council should have consulted with Sport England who would have recommended mitigation measures be agreed before the application was decided and that the developer meet the cost of this. He was persuaded that, if it had consulted Sport England, the council would have required the developer to install mitigation measures. The Ombudsman recommended the council meet the cost of installing a fence of adequate height and length to protect the new development and be responsible for future maintenance of it.

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.

We provide 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 we aim to get it put right by recommending a suitable remedy.

November 2023

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