Kingston resident left feeling 'bullied' following complaint on council's planned development
By Charlotte Lillywhite - Local Democracy Reporter
11th May 2022 | Local News
A South London council was told to apologise after a woman said she felt "bullied" over her objection to a development close to her home. The unnamed woman claimed Kingston Council had "abused its powers" after she raised concerns about the potential impact of the development on slow worms in the area.
A local government ombudsman report has revealed the council took almost three months to respond to the woman, referred to only as Ms B, after she escalated her complaint. Ms B initially objected to the planning application, submitted by the council for its own land, over the potential "adverse impact" of the development on the ecology of the area and its slow worms.
The council's biodiversity officer also "stressed the importance of following best practice" in relation to slow worms on the site, according to the report. The council asked the firm who carried out the initial ecological survey on the area to respond to Ms B's points with a revised assessment and cover letter.
An additional report was published on the council's website referring to Ms B by name and her comments. The local government and social care ombudsman report says: "Ms B considered this was inappropriate and she said she felt bullied and that the council had abused its powers."
The report adds: "I can understand why Ms B feels as she does as the report referred specifically to her. That was not necessary, and does not appear to be what the council had asked for, but it is not in itself fault."
But the ombudsman found fault in the way the council handled Ms B's complaint which she submitted after planning permission was granted. Ms B escalated her initial complaint because she was "not satisfied" with the response from the council, who took almost three months to reply. Ms B raised wider concerns about the authority's approach to ecological issues.
The report says: "It took the council almost three months to respond to Ms B. The council said that was because of the complexity of the matters raised and the involvement of a number of different services areas. The matters were not so complex that it justified the time taken to respond. Nor did the council respond adequately to Ms B's complaint about the commissioning of the report."
It adds: "Although there was not fault in the decision to seek further comment on Ms B's comments the council should have provided a proper response on how it had come about and its differing roles in the application process."
Kingston Council has been ordered to apologise to the woman. The local authority said in a statement: "The local government ombudsman's report into this case found that they were satisfied with our approach in this situation, and that there was no fault in our consideration of the relevant ecological issues.