UK Government

News Distribution Service: Embargoed until 00:01 21 January 2010 - Ombudsmen recommend £95,000 in compensation after seven years of ineffectiveness by three public bodies

Press Release   •   Jan 21, 2010 11:08 GMT

The combined failings of three public bodies allowed illegal waste activities to go unchecked over a seven-year period with devastating effect, says an Ombudsmen report published today. Environmentally Unfriendly, a joint report by Ann Abraham, Parliamentary Ombudsman and Local Government Ombudsman, Anne Seex, looks to the three bodies to pay £95,000 in compensation to the neighbours of the unauthorised waste site.

The payment by the Environment Agency, Lancashire County Council and Rossendale Borough Council reflects years of extreme distress, aggravation and financial loss suffered by Mrs D and her son (real names are not used to protect their anonymity) after the Environment Agency and Councils failed to stop a neighbour from using his land as an illegal landfill site.

From 2000-2007 thousands of tonnes of rubbish were illegally dumped, burned and processed on farmland a few metres from Mrs D’s home, enough to fill three Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Mrs D and her son live in a green belt area noted for its biological and archaeological heritage. Their complaints about the damage the waste was causing to the environment and their property went unchecked for seven years. The three public bodies failed to work together despite the existence of a national protocol which clearly required a coordinated joint approach on waste enforcement.

Parliamentary Ombudsman, Ann Abraham said in the report:

“Our investigation found that the relevant authorities failed to take urgent or robust enforcement action, despite the very evident and unacceptable activities taking place on the neighbouring farm.

Being able to undertake a joint investigation and issue a joint report with the Local Government Ombudsman has allowed us to consider maladministration and injustice in the round.”

Local Government Ombudsman, Anne Seex said:
“Anyone seeing the evidence of what happened on that land and of the devastation wrought on this beauty spot should be justifiably shocked and outraged that, despite all the legal safeguards in place, such events could actually happen.”

Environmentally Unfriendly recommends that all three bodies:

* should individually write to the complainants to apologise for the failings the Ombudsmen have identified; 
* make good any financial loss resulting from the frustration of Mrs D and her son’s plan to sell their property in 2005 (an independent valuation put this amount at £35,000)
* pay compensation of £60,000 for the disruption to the complainants’ lives;
* put in place a joint agreement between the Environment Agency and Lancashire County Council on how they will work together to respond to illegal waste activities (as required by the national protocol) to prevent recurrence; and
* determine whether any other action, individually or jointly is required to prevent a recurrence of such events.

The financial compensation has been divided amongst the Environment Agency and the Councils according to their obligations to use their powers to act on the complaint.

The public bodies have all accepted the Ombudsmen’s recommendations.

Ends

Notes to Editors:

1. The Parliamentary Ombudsman and the Local Government Ombudsmen are appointed by the Crown and are completely independent of the Government and local government.
2. Ann Abraham holds the post of UK Parliamentary Ombudsman and is also Health Service Ombudsman for England. Her role is to provide a service to the public by undertaking independent investigations into complaints that government departments, a range of other public bodies in the UK, and the NHS in England, have not acted properly or fairly or have provided a poor service.
3. There are three Local Government Ombudsmen in England and they each deal with complaints from different parts of the country. Their role is to investigate complaints of injustice arising from maladministration by local authorities and certain other bodies. Anne Seex is the Local Government Ombudsman who published this joint report with Ann Abraham.
4. The Regulatory Reform Order 2007 provides that with the consent of the complainant the Parliamentary Ombudsman and the Local Government Ombudsman are able to share information, carry out joint investigations and produce joint reports in respect of complaints which fall within the remit of both Ombudsmen.
5. There is no charge for using the Ombudsmen’s service.
6. Visit our websites, www.lgo.org.uk and www.ombudsman.org.uk
7. Contact details
Press copies of the report are available from the Communications team,
Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, Millbank Tower, Millbank, London SW1P 4QP, telephone: 0300 061 4996/ 3924, email: press@ombudsman.org.uk or the Local Government Ombudsman, telephone: 020 7217 4686/4734, email: press@lgo.org.uk

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