Watchdog criticises council after e-mail is missed by planners

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COUNCIL chiefs have been rapped after a crucial objection to a planning application was missed because an official’s e-mail inbox was too full.

The public services watchdog criticised the council department for failing to follow “due process” during a planning bid last year, when it emerged that a complaint has been lost after bouncing back from an official’s inbox. The decision to grant planning permission may now have to be re-examined.

In the report by the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO), storage capacity of the online mailbox was described as “inadequate” and would “block easily” when staff were off on holiday.

The ombudsman also noted how on “several occasions” management had been informed about the problem. The local authority is now set to apologise to a woman whose case highlighted the flaw after she raised concerns about the building of a two-storey property in her neighbour’s garden in the Mountcastle area of the city.

Under planning rules, the application should have been referred to a committee after a councillor sent an e-mail recommending that it should be debated. Instead, it was passed by a planning officer under delegated powers.

The complainer, who wished to remain anonymous, said she was happy with the ombudsman’s ruling.

“Apparently, this problem with the emails is something they have had for a long time and they haven’t done anything about it,” she said.

“I doubt we are the first people this has happened to.

“The reason we pursued it to this stage was that we had been really frustrated that we had not had our say,

“There’s no appeal process in planning procedure, so if the council failed to follow due process and wronged us then we couldn’t do anything about it.

“We are happy that the ombudsman found in our favour, but now I don’t know what’s going to happen.

“The council have to apologise to us but what good is that because we now have this extension next to us that might or might not have gone ahead if they had listened to our objection.”

The SPSO said that the application should be referred to committee to consider granting a revocation order as well as recommending a review of the current e-mail system.

A council spokeswoman said: “We take these recommendations very seriously and we will act on them accordingly as agreed with the ombudsman.”

david.mccann@edinburghnews.com