spso Scottish Public Services Ombudsman Watch - Planning complaints
Campaigning for a more accountable & effective Scottish Public Services Ombudsman
This page on the web site has been developed to give people options on how to tackle Local
Authority Planning Departments who are not following their own rules on responding to your
questions and queries and their refusal to take appropriate enforcement action.
Background to my own personal situation with a planning authority:
I am a member of the public who found myself in a situation where I had good reason to ask the Council to
take enforcement action against a neighbour who had erected a building without planning permission.
As soon as I contacted the Council, I realised that the Council were on the neighbour’s side and would not
take enforcement action.
To cut a long story short, I pursued every avenue open to me and eventually after 6 months, the
Council were made to take enforcement action and after a further appeal the building was
dismantled and removed.
I had lots of issues with the way the Council had dealt with my complaints and I complained to the Scottish
Public Services Ombudsman, believing that they would recognise and accept the irrefutable evidence of
maladministration which I presented.
My experience has been that the SPSO did everything in their power to protect the Council from any
complaint of maladministration.
I set up my web site Scottish Ombudsman Watch due to the injustice I had experienced and the feeling that I
was not the only one who had been treated that way.
Since setting up the site I have found lots of people in a similar situation. The site is giving people inspiration
to not to be fobbed off by the Council’s and SPSO and to recognise that if everyone keeps complaining then
change will happen. The MSPs are now recognising the problem and saying so in Parliament.
The following section of this page details some of the things which I did to ensure that the planning department did what they were
legally supposed to do and some options given to a person who contacted the site who was having problems with a Council who
would not respond to his letters and who were allowing a business to continue to operate without planning permission.
Options that can be considered to hold the local authority planning departments to account are:
1. Check everything the Council says. If it is wrong then submit a formal complaint. The internet is a great place to check the laws
and planning rules. If you are not sure then ask the Council for their own guidelines on the subject under a Freedom of Information
(FOI) request. See web site page "simple guide to FOI" on how to make a FOI request.
2. Ask the Council to provide a copy of their complaints procedure.
3. Ask the Council to provide a copy of their enforcement policy.
4. Ask the Council to provide copies of planning applications, approvals, roads reports, conditions and all correspondence between
the Council and the owners of the property/business in question under a FOI request. Check that the conditions have all been
implemented and if they have not been implemented, then ask for enforcement action to be taken.
5. The Council's Roads Department are legally required, for all planning applications, to provide an "Observations on Planning
application" (see Local Authority Road Department Guidelines Chapter 1 page 1). This report details if the "sight lines" of the
existing or proposed junction to the public highway are acceptable. If the sight lines are not acceptable then the Roads Department
will say "NO" and will then specify the minimum dimensions of the "visibility splays" which are required to be developed to make the
access junction acceptable. The planning department will then make the Roads Department's minimum "visibility splays" a condition
of the planning application. If the applicant does not have control of the land on either side of the junction then they would not be
able to produce the required visibility splays and would not be able to progress their planning application. The minimum visibility
splays are detailed in the Roads Department's guidelines (just ask to see a copy).
If a development has been started and the applicant cannot produce the required visibility splays then contact your Council's
Planning department and ask them to enforce their own conditions. Legally if the applicant cannot produce the visibility splays then
they cannot access the public road and cannot use the property/business until the visibility splays are produced.
The following two documents detail what visibility splays are:
A. The Institute of Civil Engineers "Design Bulletin 32 - Layout of residential roads and footpaths" (link): page 3 shows a diagram of
what a visibility splay is and gives details of the length (Y) and depth (X) that a visibility splay requires. Basically when standing
distance "X" in from the public highway at the mid point of junction you should have unrestricted view of a point distance "Y" on either
side of the junction on the nearside verge of the public highway. The vertical window of completely unrestricted view is A = 1.05m to
2m height or where children use the junction B = 0.6m to 2m height.
B. Example of a Local Authority Road Department Guidelines on visibility splays (link)
6. If the Council will not answer your questions then you should ask the Council to provide a copy of their response to your letters
under a FOI request. They will then have to acknowledge that they did not respond to your letter which is conclusive proof of
maladministration. You should then submit a formal complaint to the Council.
7. Ask the Council to provide the documents to show that the property/business in question has planning permission to operate
under a FOI request. If permission does not exist, then ask the Council to take immediate enforcement action.
8. Write to the Chief Executive of the Council and say that you are submitting a formal complaint regarding: 1. Failure of the person
in the Council (name) who failed to answer your questions and letters which is maladministration 2. That the Council has failed to
ensure that the property/business has the correct planning permission to operate.
9. Ask the Chief executive to take immediate enforcement action to stop operations at the property/business as you believe the
Council are allowing a business to continue to operate without the correct planning permission.
10. Write to the head of planning at the Scottish Executive advising them that the Council has failed to control development of the
property/business that is now being operated without planning permission, failed to take enforcement action, failed to respond to
your letters. Ask the Scottish Executive Planning department to call in this planning application and determine it as the Council has
failed to process and determine the application and are allowing the illegal operation to continue.
I wrote to the Scottish Executive Planning Department and 2 weeks later they wrote to me advising that the Council
would be taking enforcement action “ to maintain public confidence in the planning system”.
Here is the link to the Scottish Executive Planning Department www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Planning
2-H Victoria Quay
Edinburgh EH6 6QQ
Tel: 08457 741741 ( UK local rate)
11. If possible get lots of the neighbours to write to the Council & Scottish Executive Planning department. Do not raise a petition,
as 100,000 signatures on a petition only counts as one complaint. Best thing to do is to prepare a proforma letter of complaint and
get the neighbours to sign and put their address on them. That way every signature counts as an individual complaint.
12. If possible get lots of the neighbours to write to write to your local Councillor. Again you can use a proforma letter. Councillors
have a lot of say over planning applications and if they think they are going to loose a lot of votes then they will take action.
13. Once your formal complaint and appeal has been rejected by the Council then you need to take your complaint to
14. Complain to the SPSO. If they reject your complaint and you have provided irrefutable evidence of maladministration then
complain about how they have handled your complaint see web page "complainaboutSPSO" on this site.
15. You then need to complain to your constituency MSP, your seven regional MSPs, John Swinney MSP Cabinet Secretary for
Finance, Mr Alex Ferguson MSP Presiding Officer for the Scottish Parliament, and Mr Mike Pringle MSP who is responsible for the
Ombudsman. When complaining to the MSPs you should also ask the MSPs and Ministers to initiate an Audit Scotland examination
audit into "economy, efficiency and effectiveness" with particular focus on investigating all complaints about the service provided by
the SPSO, including interviews with the people who have submitted these complaints about the SPSO.
It is really important that all members of the public keep complaining and making sure the MSPs know how the SPSO
are not doing the job they are meant to be doing.
The Council’s know they can ignore the public as the SPSO will not find maladministration.
I started my web site 1.5 years ago as there was no public information to suggest how badly the SPSO were failing to protect the
public from Councils who know they can ignore the public with impunity.
That’s changed, the MSPs now recognise there is a problem and hopefully change is round the corner and we will get a more
The public need to hold the Council’s and Scottish Public Services Ombudsman to account and that is why I need your support for
the campaign to get a more accountable Ombudsman as it would mean that in future the Council would not be able to ignore the
guidelines and laws or be able to just ignore the public like they currently do.