The Local Government Ombudsman has criticised Selby District Council over the way it handled unauthorised car parking in a field adjoining two couples' homes.
The watchdog said the couples suffered injustice in that use of the field continued and they lost confidence in the council's ability to deal with the matter. The council is now dealing with these matters, but there are related planning appeals outstanding, and its response to the currently unauthorised use of the field is likely to be affected by these.
The case centred on a permission granted by the Yorkshire council in March 2005 which allowed a dining room in a farmhouse to be used as a tea room associated with a nursery already operating at the site with an outdoor tea garden.
The terms of this permission included the provision that the tea room should not open until vehicle access, parking and turning arrangements were agreed with the planning department in consultation with the highway authority.
Shortly after the permission was granted the two couples contacted the council because the field between their homes and the farm appeared to be being marked out as a car park.
The owner of tea room sent the council a drawing and other details explaining proposed parking arrangements, using the field for access. This information was filed by the council.
As a result of the complainants' letters to the council, an enforcement officer from the planning authority visited the site. He subsequently wrote to the owner and the complainants explaining that the law allowed the field to be used for up to 28 days in any one year.
The complainants kept photographic evidence of the field's use which showed that the 28 days was used up by 21 August. The parking has created bad feeling between the residents and the tea shop owner.
On 21 September 2005 the council accepted new drawings showing revised proposals for parking (without consulting the Highways Authority) and discharged the condition to the original planning application.
The tea room closed for the winter but then reopened, prompting more complaints about the use of the field for car parking and the expansion of food sales into a farm shop.
The council told the complainants and the watchdog that difficulties created by an understaffed planning department meant that the car parking proposal originally submitted was not recognised as relating to the condition of the original planning permission. As a result the owner did not receive a proper response before he began operating the business.
The Ombudsman found maladministration causing injustice after concluding that the application was determined by a member of staff who did not have sufficient seniority to do so. The Ombudsman's investigation found there was no record of who took a decision not to take enforcement action or the reasons.
The watchdog recommended that the council pay the four complainants £100 each for their time and trouble. The ombudsman also recommended that the council assesses the planning control position once the outstanding planning appeals are decided, and send a comprehensive position statement to the complainants.
26 April 2007