More on Council Blunders

Coincidentally having just posted “Council Blunders”, Owl has also received this correspondence from “Ms. B”:

Owl has written many times on openness and transparency both in central and local government. Without truth and honesty from those who govern us all confidence is lost in our lawmakers. In my own small way I cannot find what has happened to an enforcement number issued by EDDC’s Central Planning Team over a year ago. I have now lost all confidence in EDDC’s planning and monitoring staff and the Local Government Ombudsman who police local authorities as questions remain unanswered.

An enforcement number was issued following an unauthorised demolition in a conservation area. I was told I would be kept informed as to the outcome. I had an e-mail after 8 months from a Chief Planning Officer saying that a retrospective planning application would be forthcoming in a couple of weeks. No application then appeared, no information on the planning portal and no replies to my e-mails.

My only solution was a formal complaint. Stage 1 revealed an explanation from the Service Lead Planning Strategy and Development Manager which said a decision had been made at the time the enforcement number was issued not to proceed with enforcement. This puzzled me, given the e-mail from the Chief Planning Officer referred to above. Also, in my opinion, the reasons given were not in accordance with permitted development. 

Unhappy with these two different stories I proceeded to Stage 2 of the formal complaint. The  Monitoring Officer wrote saying that he dismissed my complaint because he couldn’t “corroborate” the contradiction because the Chief Planning Officer had left the council. Planning is a quasi-legal process; were no records kept? Why didn’t he ask me for copies of e-mails?

I then tried the Ombudsman thinking that, apart from finding out the truth; mistakes and errors can be used constructively to improve services to the public. I was told by many people that the Ombudsman was a “waste of time” but I pressed on.

Every complaint is assessed using an ‘Assessment Code’ with four inter-related tests: All four tests may be considered when deciding to investigate, but the get-out clause is they may just consider one particular test. In my case the officer only assessed the “Injustice Test” and decided I had not suffered “a significant personal injustice” and did not proceed further to investigate any other test.  

For example, the “Fault Test” applies where “the type and scale of the fault amounts to a particularly serious failure to meet normally expected standards of public service.” Inexplicably, this was not applied to my complaint.

So, in conclusion I do not know who or what to believe. EDDC’s dodgy record keeping remains their own secret and an enforcement number has vanished into thin air!  

2 thoughts on “More on Council Blunders

  1. A lot of us hoped that with the new regime “transparency and openness” would be the order of the day.
    It seems from Ms.B’s experience that this is not the case. The old ways of working still exist in the planning department.
    Wouldn’t it be excellent if East Devon inhabitants had complete trust in planning matters.

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  2. My experience of several ombudsmen has been similar. The Local Government Ombudsman is probably the worst. My compo,laint was about serious maladministration by EDDC for hundreds or even thousands of residents, but it was rejected because I had not had a personal injustice. We should not be surprised by this because the Ombudsman’s current remit was reset by a Conservative Government (which refuses to be held accountable) and the Ombudsman is largely if not completely staffed by ex-senior local government officers who have an inbuilt bias towards councils and against residents.

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