Date released: 20.07.2010
The Ombudsman, Emily O´Reilly, today (Tuesday 20 July, 2010) published an Investigation Report into a complaint from a married couple concerning their treatment by Meath County Council over a large-scale, unauthorised shed development beside their home.
Commenting, the Ombudsman said,
“If the planning laws and systems are to command public confidence, it is vital that planning authorities take their enforcement responsibilities seriously. Allowing the retention of a structure without any permissions in place, which itself has been the subject of numerous persistent complaints, does serious damage to the integrity of the planning process and undermines public trust and confidence."
The Report refers to:
- Complaints made to Meath County Council over 5 years, about the development.
- Repeated representations to the Council by residents about noise, traffic and unauthorised use, which ultimately failed to trigger enforcement action for removal of the shed by the Council. This was despite seventeen inspections and incontrovertible evidence that the shed development was unauthorised.
- The Council’s acceptance of the Ombudsman's recommendation to issue an apology to complainants and pay compensation.
- €3,000 paid to the complainants up-front. A further €10,000 to be paid in five annual instalments of €2,000, starting in January, 2010, as the Council decided not to issue a statutory notice for demolition, or removal of the shed which, in exceptional circumstances, it is empowered to do under planning law.
The shed was being used for commercial purposes, without any planning permission, from August, 2000 to November, 2005 and numerous complaints were made to the Council by the couple and their neighbours, seeking action on the unauthorised development, without success. Eventually in December, 2005 the Council claimed it could not take action as the shed had been erected for over seven years and the law ruled out enforcement action for that reason.
In July, 2006 the couple approached the Ombudsman looking for assistance. Following an initial report from the Council in the matter and given the seriousness of the complaint and the issues it raised, the Ombudsman decided to open a full investigation into the case under section 4 of the Ombudsman Act, 1980.
Commenting, the Ombudsman said,
“As my Report clearly shows, from a forensic examination of all the files and documentation and intensive engagement with Council officials at all levels, there were long and unacceptable delays in the processing of the complaints to the Council.
Coupled with the Council's lax attitude to the enforcement of planning law, my complainants were the victims of poor and unsound administration. I found fundamental shortcomings in the overall management and direction of the Council´s enforcement section and it failed at every opportunity presented to it to deal effectively with the totality of the unauthorised development. The official in charge had no appropriate support mechanisms and management failed to have in place effective systems to oversee the work of the section. So, it would not be fair to attribute responsibility for the disastrous handling of my complainant’s genuine grievance to any one official, as the systemic failure was across the board.”
Concluding, Emily O’Reilly said “I am pleased that the Council accepted my recommendation to issue a letter of apology to my complainants and to pay financial compensation. However, the position remains that a seven-year statutory time limit for removing unauthorised developments can be relied upon by a local authority to allow such an unauthorised structure to remain in place, if it fails to take the necessary enforcement action.”