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LOCAL GOVERNMENT OMBUDSMEN INVESTIGATION REPORTS ISSUED SINCE 6 APRIL

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

Governors of Dunraven School, Streatham (05/B/6021, 6027 & 6284)

Education admissions

'Mrs Tudor', 'Mrs Stuart' and 'Mr Hanover' (not their real names for legal reasons) complained that education admissions panels failed to consider properly the reasons they put forward for requesting places for their children at Dunraven School. Mrs Tudor and Mr Hanover believe that the school's distance criterion was not applied properly in their cases and, if it had been, their children would have been allocated places and so would not have needed to go to appeal.

The Ombudsman concluded that none of the children had been wrongly denied a place at the allocations stage. He was satisfied that the complainants had been able to raise their concerns at the appeal hearings and that those concerns were properly considered.

While he identified a number of administrative shortcomings in the school's appeals procedure, he did not conclude that the process was so flawed that fresh appeals were required. However, he found that the complainants had suffered injustice from a justifiable sense of outrage.

The Ombudsman finds maladministration causing injustice and recommends that the Governors of Dunraven School should review their arrangements for handling appeals so that in future those procedures comply with the statutory Code of Practice. In particular, attention should be given to the following areas:

--information that is provided to parents about the appeals process;

--timing of appeal hearings;

--information that is provided to parents about the school's case and the reasons for not offering a particular child a place at the school;

--record keeping of the appeal hearings and panels' deliberations;

--the content of decision letters following appeals; and

--the independent clerking of appeal panels.

The Governors have indicated that the procedural issues highlighted during the Ombudsman's investigation have been noted and that the required adjustments are being put in place for future appeals.

Southwark LBC (04/B/6313)

Publicity for planning applications

'Mrs Shelley' (not her real name for legal reasons) complained that the Council did not consult her about revised plans for a proposed development next door to her property. She had not been given the opportunity to comment on the changes and considered them to have badly affected her amenity.

The Council did consult Mrs Shelley (and others) when the application was received and asked the applicant to submit revised plans to take account of objections. The amended plans showed the changes the Council had requested as well as an alteration to the side elevation nearest to Mrs Shelley's property, which the Council had not asked for.

The Council did not consult Mrs Shelley on the amended plans because it considered they represented an improvement on the original ones. Officers approved the application under the Council's scheme of delegation. Mrs Shelleywould have objected to the amended plans if she had been given the opportunity. She does not know if she might have been able to achieve further amendments to the proposed development which would have lessened its impact on her property.

The Ombudsman finds maladministration causing injustice and recommends that the Council should pay Mrs Shelley compensation based on the difference in the valuation of her property with the original proposed development built next to it and the valuation of her property with the development for which the Council gave consent. The Council should also pay her£250 for her time and trouble in pursuing her complaint.

Findings of maladministration but no injustice

Isle of Wight Council (05/B/785)

Planning enforcement and consideration/neighbour amenity

The Council received a planning application in March 2003 for continued use of land for motorcross and associated engineering works. Extensive earthworks were then carried out. 'Mr and Mrs Knight' (not their real names for legal reasons) say that they are affected by noise from the site. They have a number of criticisms about the way the Council considered this application.

The Council sought legal advice on the validity of the original decision notice and was advised to consider the application afresh. On 12 August 2003 the Council resolved that temporary planning consent should be issued. Council officers admitted that there were some shortcomings in the way that the previous application was dealt with but claim that they did not impact on the outcome. Another local resident sought Judicial Review of both decisions. The Council resolved not to take enforcement action regarding an event held in May 2004. A consent order which quashed both planning permissions was signed on 9 June 2004. The site was used for two events in September and October 2004. Enforcement action was authorised on 26 October 2004 when it became obvious that the promoter had not commissioned the preparation of an environmental statement to accompany a planning application for the use of the land on a permanent basis. However, the Council agreed to an event taking place in August 2005 which was controlled by a section 106 agreement.

In his conclusions, the Ombudsman commented 'I can see that it could appear to the complainants and other local residents that the Council in effect turned a blind eye to breaches of planning control.' But he explained that 'There is no obligation on the Council to take enforcement action in cases like this, it has a discretion to do so.' He could not criticise the merits of the Council's decisions not to take such action.

The Ombudsman finds maladministration by the Council only on two points: in 2003 it failed to consider whether an environmental impact assessent was necessary; and in June 2003 a decision notice was issued before a solicitor's comments had been considered. However, the Ombudsman finds that neither of these faults caused injustice to Mr andMrs Knight. On the first point, the Council might reasonably have concluded that no environmental impact assessment was necessary at that time, and on the second point, the decision notice was retrieved, and so no injustice arose to Mr and Mrs Knight from that.

The Ombudsman also said that he could not conclude that the maladministration caused the Knights outrage that was separate from their strongly-held opposition to the use of the site by its owners or organisers of events which have taken place there.

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