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LOCAL GOVERNMENT OMBUDSMEN INVESTIGATION REPORTS ISSUED SINCE 11 DECEMBER

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Findings of maladministration causing injustice ...
Findings of maladministration causing injustice

Congleton BC (02/C/10495)

Environmental health

'Mrs Nixon' (not her real name for legal reasons) was concerned about the council's actions in monitoring and limiting the possible emissions of toxic substances from a golf course built on the site of a former chemical works and waste tip.

The council explored the use of funding from central government to assist with work at the site. The ombudsman was not critical up to the point at which it became clear that such funding was unlikely to be available. She was, however, critical of the council thereafter.

The ombudsman found maladministration in that the council seemed not to recognise the situation speedily enough and act accordingly. It failed to give proper consideration to using its own resources and, as a result, certain key recommendations were not met.

Whilst the ombudsman was doubtful if any significant health risks actually arose (either to residents or golfers), she did accept that maladministration led to needless anxiety and frustration for Mrs Nixon and others.

The ombudsman recommends that the council should pursue certain specific lines of action to deal with issues now arising at the site. These include seeking to establish whether or not the site has a certain special status, in which event an agency of central government would become responsible for its regulation.

In addition, the ombudsman asks the council for £200 to compensate Mrs Nixon for the time and trouble expended on making her complaint known.

Manchester City Council (02/C/11993)

Death

'Mrs Saddique' (not her real name for legal reasons) complained that the council had failed to maintain properly the Muslim section of one of its cemeteries where some of her relatives are buried. She said that, as a consequence, the cemetery appears very unkempt, which is disrespectful, and that some of the graves have caved in, making the area dangerous for those visiting .

The ombudsman found that the complaint was justified and the council acknowledged that the cemetery had not been maintained to an appropriate standard. The council explained that the fact that there are many different burial traditions in the Muslim community had made the design and maintenance of the cemetery a very difficult and sensitive issue, but the ombudsman considered that, even taking this into account, the council had not properly exercised its responsibilities for proper maintenance and protection of public safety in this particular part of the cemetery.

The ombudsman finds maladministration causing injustice and recommends that the council should:

- undertake weekly inspections of this area of the cemetery and fill in holes in graves as soon as they appear;

- increase the number of grass cuts throughout the Muslim section of the cemetery to four a year;

- identify graves which are not visited and act to rationalise these in order to provide more space for circulation between graves and make maintenance easier;

- work with partner organisations to agree a protocol covering management and maintenance of the Muslim cemetery and, once responsibilities have been clarified, publish a leaflet for the public explaining the agreement reached.

The council has agreed to pay £500 to Mrs Saddique in recognition of her distress and her time and trouble in pursuing this complaint.

Warrington BC (02/C/14892)

Commercial

The council terminated the market trading licence of 'Mr Cooper' (not his real name for legal reasons) following an altercation with a security guard. The ombudsman found that the council acted so without giving Mr Cooper a fair chance to put forward his case. She concluded that this failing did not affect the decision to terminate the licence, but the council was additionally at fault for failing to give Mr Cooper four weeks notice in accordance with the licence agreement.

The ombudsman found maladministration which ca used injustice. She recommends that the council should compensate Mr Cooper for losses arising from the failure to give four weeks notice and his reasonable legal costs. The council should also review its administrative procedures.

South Lakeland DC (01/C/17825) and

Cumbria CC (02/C/1036)

Land & highways

'Mr Billingham' (not his real name for legal reasons) complained that the district council sold him land in front of his property without either realising or warning him that the land was highway land and therefore subject to considerable restrictions. He also complained that the county council failed to draw this to his attention or to the district council's attention when the county council was subsequently invited to comment on a planning application which he submitted.

The investigation showed that Mr Billingham's complaints against both councils were fully justified. The district council had sold him land with defective title and the county council had failed either to give him proper advice or to alert the district council to the need to take into account highway restrictions that affected the land. The district council immediately acknowledged fault but, despite protracted discussions between the councils, no solution could be found because the county council denied that it was in any way at fault. Because the problem remained unresolved, Mr Billingham, who had bought the land in good faith and undertaken £20,000 of development to provide a parking space at the front of his house, had to drop the sale price by £4,000 when he came to sell his house.

The ombudsman found maladministration causing injustice by both South Lakeland DC and Cumbria CC. Both councils have agreed to the ombudsman's recommendations that South Lakeland DC should pay two thirds and Cumbria CC one third of:

(a) the cost of the works required to restore the highway edge

(b)£6,000 compensation to Mr Billingham to reflect the reduced price at which he sold his property and hi s costs, and trouble in pursuing the matter

South Gloucestershire Council (02/B/13915)

Enforcement & drainage

'Mr Smith' (not his real name for legal reasons) complained that the council had delayed unreasonably in taking enforcement action against the formation of an unauthorised access track on a site next to his home and garden. This affected the drainage of rainwater from the site and, as a result, Mr Smith's garden and septic tank were flooded on several occasions. The ombudsman found that the council had delayed for nine months in making progress with enforcement action.

The ombudsman finds maladministration causing injustice and recommends that the council:

- pays the complainant £1,000

- takes steps to ensure that compliance with the enforcement notice is achieved including considering whether to undertake work in default

- satisfies itself, as far as possible, that the maladministration identified does not recur

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