Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Deja vue

I have just been reading the 2006/7 Local Government Ombudsman's annual review and came across an interesting case study. There are strong similarities to my complaint.

A Mr Smith complained that the council had mistakenly granted a certificate of lawfulness for his neighbours extension, which came right up to his boundary. Both the law and the council's policy required it to have planning permission.

The Ombudsman said the case was 'a tale of very substantial and serious error, incompetence and delay'. There is now a three story extension where there should not be one.

As far as my case is concerned the council certificated a local distributor road that a developer had started to construct in 1991, even though they had known for a year that it wasn't being constructed in the planned position and that it couldn't be completed without impacting on my property. During 2001 the County Council redesigned the highway and attempted to complete it, however, they did this without the necessary planning permission and in full knowledge that it would still impact on my property.

I consider this another 'tale of very substantial and serious error, incompetence and delay' for the following reasons. There is now a Class 3A local distributor road in a position it shouldn't be in. To complete it (in it's current position) they need to encroach on my land not just come right up to the boundary. Most people would agree that issuing a certificate for a highway that's in the wrong position is a very serious error, however, when you take into account that the council knew about the problem the year before issuing the certificate it beggars belief. In fact it takes local authority incompetence to a new level. Furthermore, most people would agree that 16 years is a significant delay. In addition, the County Council should, by law and council policy, have applied for planning permission but they failed to do so. However, what makes my case more damning is that the County Council then lied about their need for planning approval.

However, there is a distinct difference in the two cases, the Ombudsman has resolved Mr Smiths complaint. Mine has still not been resolved despite the fact that the Ombudsman has carried out two investigations (1997/8 and 2006/7) and been involved with my case for over ten years.

Want to know why? Well in Mr Smith's case the Ombudsman suggested a remedy to the council. However, the council can ignore the remedy and there is nothing Mr Smith (or the Ombudsman) can do about it. The bottom line is that his complaint is now closed and the best he can hope for is that the council actually deliver the remedy suggested by the Ombudsman.

My case is slightly different in that the County Council need some of my land in order to complete the highway. That means that if they ignore the Ombudsman's suggested remedy, as they did in 1998, it doesn't end the matter. So in essence the Ombudsman can't stuff me as easy as they do others.

That's why the County Council actions during 2001 led to another complaint. So what's the point in the Ombudsman making more recommendations they can't enforce when it's going to make them look like impotent fools. Hence the difficulty they are having winding up my complaint and the reason why it took them 5 years to start investigating my 2002 complaint in the first place.

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