June 18 2013 Latest news:
Friday, August 10, 2012
Norwich City Council has been found guilty of maladministration causing injustice after a complaint over a structurally unsound council house.
Local Government Ombudsman Dr Jane Martin criticised the council for failing to consider ‘best value’ when the authority decided how to deal with the city property.
While the details of the building, or the complainant are not revealed, the ombudsman has recommended the council pays £4,000 to the man who lodged the complaint, anonymised in the report as ‘Mr Williams’.
The report showed how he had bought a semidetached property in Norwich for his daughter to live in while she attended university.
But in January 2009, it emerged the council house next door had structural problems, and City Hall officers decided the best way forward was to demolish it.
However, Mr Williams was concerned about the impact demolition would have on his property, so he and his solicitor offered to purchase the plot from the council once it had been knocked down.
In April 2010, the council decided it could not proceed with that sale as it would not be able to demonstrate ‘best value’ and instead decided to sell the property at auction, where it fetched £43,000.
Mr Williams complained to the ombudsman that the council’s original decision to demolish the home had been flawed and the way the council dealt with the matter had been unreasonable.
He said itcaused him considerable anxiety, and that he incurred solicitors’ and professional survey fees in the region of £6,000.
The ombudsman found that, when the council decided to approve demolition of the property and sell the site, it did not give proper consideration as to whether this would demonstrate best value.
She said she could not be certain that, if the council had reached its decision properly, the complainant would have avoided all of his costs, but said: “It seems to me that the key reason that he incurred the costs that he did was the concern that stemmed from the council advising him it would be demolishing the adjoining property.”
She also accepted Mr Williams must accept some responsibility for the risks associated with property ownership and recommended that City Hall pay him £3,000 – half of the professional fees he incurred, plus £1,000 for his time and trouble in pursuing the complaint.
Following the ruling, A Norwich City Council spokesman said the authority still felt it had made the right decision and never had an agreement with Mr Williams over the sale of the house.
He added: “We have asked the ombudsman for more information regarding Mr Williams’s legal expenses before we reach a decision about any payment of fees as we consider that Mr Williams did not need to incur any legal costs in this matter.”