LGO raps council over failure to implement recommendations in planning case

The Local Government Ombudsman, Dr Jane Martin, has strongly criticised a city council for failing to comply with her recommendations in a planning case, and issued a reminder to local authorities that she has the same powers as the High Court to require evidence.

The LGO’s comments came after an investigation into complaints from two separate homeowners about errors by planners at Plymouth City Council when approving a second application on an uncultivated field.

The Ombudsman concluded that “during the planning process, officers failed to publicise the new application properly in the neighbourhood, failed to ask for a flood risk assessment from the Environment Agency, included the wrong plans in the report to the planning committee, and significantly misrepresented how the new proposals would affect neighbours in the report”.

One resident/complainant said she no longer had late afternoon sunshine in her kitchen, sitting room and dining room and had a Juliet balcony overlooking her garden. Decking in the new garden afforded an uninterrupted view into her bedroom, she said.

The other couple/complainants felt that they are overlooked and their outlook is dominated by a two-storey house.

Both sets of complainants also said that their properties flood because of inadequate consideration of drainage of surface water from the site.

The LGO claimed that Plymouth had been obstructive and had her findings of fault. “It has had a number of opportunities to acknowledge the errors made but has refused to do so or to follow recommendations made.”

The Ombudsman recommended that to remedy the injustice the council should:

  • apologise to both families;
  • ask the District Valuer to assess the current value of the complainants’ properties and the value each would have had if the developers had built according to the original plans and pay the difference between the two valuations;
  • pursue the proposals in the drainage report completed in the course of the investigation and ensure adequate drainage is in place before the onset of winter;
  • arrange for all members of its planning committee to have at least one day’s training from professionally qualified planning officers who are not employed by the council to ensure they can robustly challenge planning officers’ views prior to making decisions;
  • pay both families £500 each in recognition of the time and trouble to which they have been put.

Dr Martin said: “The role of the Local Government Ombudsman to hold councils to account when they get things wrong is well established and has a statutory basis.

“Authorities can and do have the chance to comment on my decisions before they are finalised, including providing evidence if they wish to challenge the findings, but they should cooperate with the investigation process. Compliance with LGO recommendations is extremely high, based on a relationship with local authorities of mutual trust and respect. This is essential for achieving redress for citizens.

“I would now urge Plymouth council to learn from my report and accept the recommendations for remedy I have made.”

Leader of Plymouth City Council, Cllr Ian Bowyer, said: "This investigation has taken nearly three years to conclude and we understand this process has been difficult for the complainants so we are pleased that the Ombudsman has finally reached a decision.

"The council takes this matter very seriously and has been working with the Ombudsman over the last three years to address procedural matters that have led to changes in the way Plymouth City Council considers issues raised in planning applications of this nature. 

"The council has already apologised to the complainants and provided financial compensation where it accepts it is at fault. However, there are still matters that the council does not agree with in the Ombudsman’s report.

"The recommendations suggested by the Ombudsman will now be carefully considered by the council before responding formally."

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