I note, from the Ombudsman's 'annual letter' (2010-2011) that complaints about Carmarthenshire's Planning Services are nearly double the Welsh national average, for the second year running. If my email inbox is anything to go by, I am not surprised.
The figure (20) is of course tempered by fluctuations in the number upheld, partially upheld, dismissed etc. In fact, the Ombudsman's office is particularly proud of it's 'Complaints Advice Team' which aims to 'close investigations early', ie 'nip that one in the bud'. Anyone familiar with the whole turgid procedure knows that before you get anywhere near the ombudsman you have to go through the various debilitating stages of complaint with the council itself. The first line of defence (for that is the impression), in planning anyway, is the local planning office - if that fails you then you are referred to the Head/Director of the department. The final stage is to take your complaint to the Chief Executive. Of course, your complaint may be well dealt with successfully and off you go happy and content. If not, and after expending copious amounts of blood, sweat and tears and you still retain the will to live, you can then approach the ombudsman. By then though you may written a letter or two and been classed, (if not actually placed on the now all encompassing Unreasonable Complainants Policy) as a 'pain in the a**'. This label well may be conveyed either directly, or subliminally, to the ombudsman. You are now on the back foot. The next nightmare is to get the ombudsman to actually investigate your complaint, let alone uphold it.
The point I am trying to make is that if Carmarthenshire's figures are nearly double the Welsh average, that's is certainly saying something.
The last meeting of the Council's Standards Committee 'recieved' the ombudsman's report. Did anyone raise the issue of these figures? Did anyone say 'what's up with planning?' or were they happily fobbed off with 'oh well planning is always controversial' or 'complaints are high because we have an excellent, well publicised complaints procedure'? (The latter is a common excuse but in the several years I have been observing these things, I have not noticed any effort by the Council to improve or raise 'awareness' of the complaints system, in fact I've noticed quite the reverse).
Anyway, according to the minutes of the meeting, no one said a dickie bird.
(Ombudsman's Annual Summary of Performance 2010-11)