Plymouth council told to pay woman £1,000 after planning battle
A WOMAN who spent years battling council planners is to be paid £1,000 in compensation for the injustices caused.
The unnamed woman, who wished to develop her land, complained to the Local Government Ombudsman after negotiations with Plymouth City Council failed to reach an agreement.
But the council even failed to uphold an agreement it made with the Ombudsman.
And the woman had to go back to square one in her negotiations when the council transferred its housing stock to a housing association in 2009.
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The council's delay in fulfilling a settlement remedy it had agreed with the Local Government Ombudsman demonstrated "a lack of appropriate commitment to customer service", said the Ombudsman, Dr Jane Martin.
In her report, issued today, she says the woman wished to develop her land, and asked the council to release her property from a restrictive covenant that prevented further development. The council at first said it agreed in principle, but later proposed, instead, to vary the covenant. Negotiations continued until eventually the woman complained to the Ombudsman.
The Ombudsman proposed a remedy aimed at breaking the stalemate between the parties.
After the council agreed to consider whether to release the restrictive covenant in whole or in part and reflect the delays to which it had contributed by reducing any fees or costs, the Ombudsman discontinued her investigation.
The council delayed in carrying out the terms of the settlement and then discovered the transfer of its housing stock to a local housing association in 2009 meant that it no longer owned the covenant.
It could not therefore deliver the remedy it had agreed with the Ombudsman. The benefit and right to enforce, release or vary the covenant now rested with the housing association.
The Ombudsman found maladministration causing injustice because the council: delayed in acting on the remedy it had agreed, and failed to identify the situation about the ownership of the covenant either when the woman complained to the Ombudsman, or when the Ombudsman proposed the settlement remedy.
"I can agree remedial action with a council during an investigation to enable complainants to receive a remedy more quickly," Dr Martin said. "But in this case, the remedy was not fulfilled, and information provided was inaccurate."
She said that, having spent years pursuing her goal of a release of the restrictive covenant, the woman now had to start again with the new owner of that covenant. She had been put to "considerable inconvenience and no little expense."
The council has agreed to apologise to the woman, pay her £1,000 in recognition of the distress, delay and inconvenience caused, and as a contribution towards her abortive costs, and review its procedures.
A council spokeswoman said: "We accept the findings of the Ombudsman and will be making a payment to the complainant. We would like to apologise for the unacceptable way this issue was handled. We have reviewed our procedures to make sure this doesn't happen again."