Ombudsman complains about council thwarting its inquiries

A critical new report has found that council bosses tried to frustrate and delay an investigation into a housing estate which should never have been built.

In September last year the Plymouth Herald revealed how councillors were misled when approving plans for the controversial Dunstone Gardens estate in Elburton.

A collection of 16 homes were eventually erected without proper permission, sparking a major inquiry by the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO).

Now five years on from the first application to build on the site, a detailed report exposes how Plymouth City Council repeatedly tried to thwart the inquiry, before publicly questioning its findings.

LGO chairman Michael King said: “In the course of the investigations we met with considerable resistance from the council, which was unnecessary and disappointing.

“This frustrated and delayed our efforts to progress the case.

“We were eventually able to confirm that the council had failed to properly publicise a planning application; was unclear about the site boundary; did not give proper consideration to the complainants’ amenity; did not consider drainage arrangements properly; and listed the wrong plans in the decision notice.”

The LGO recommended nearby homes should be re-valued and told the council to pay the difference.

PCC was also asked to sort out issues with drainage, which caused water to run from the new estate into nearby gardens, and to offer extra training to members of the planning committee.

“Despite the evidential basis for these conclusions and recommendations being very clearly set out in the report, it was even more disappointing that the council chose to publicly question those findings in a subsequent press release,” Mr King (above) said.

“To date, the council has confirmed compliance with several of the recommendations and I welcome the action taken, but has yet to satisfy us in relation to the drainage arrangements.

“We remain in correspondence about the matter and the council has recently confirmed the further steps it will take.

“I hope this will address our outstanding concerns without the need for further formal action on our part; we will keep the situation under careful review.

“The adversarial response from the council in this case was disappointing. However, I note that you invested in training in complaint handling during the year. I hope that this will be of assistance in avoiding similar problems in the coming year, and provide the basis for a constructive relationship in the year ahead.”

A Plymouth City Council spokeswoman said they “accepted in full” the LGO’s recommendations.

“There are lessons to be learned from the way in which this planning application was considered,” she said.

“Improvements to existing processes to address some of the issues highlighted by the report have already been implemented.

“The LGO annual report acknowledges the action the city council has promptly taken to address a number of the recommendations which the LGO now accepts the city council has complied with, following correspondence setting out the actions we have been taking earlier in the year.

“On the issue of drainage, we confirmed to the LGO the actions we are taking on 28 April and 5 June following their confirmation of the one outstanding issue they considered still needed to be addressed.

“This is being implemented in conjunction with the property owners and we expect this case to be closed very shortly because the city council would have responded in full to all the LGO recommendations.”