Barnsley Council land sale criticised by ombudsman

Image caption,
A triangle held by the ombudsman's investigator represents the area of land valued at £4,000

A council which put a £4,000 price tag on a tiny strip of land needed for part of a home extension has been criticised by the local government watchdog.

The land at the side of a semi-detached former council house in Barnsley covered just 1.7 sq ft (0.16 sq m).

The woman who tried to buy the land from Barnsley Council complained that the price was "extortionate".

She was backed by the local government ombudsman who said she "justifiably feels a strong sense of outrage".

In her report on the case, ombudsman Anne Seex recommends the council "should remedy the injustice" by apologising to the woman, transferring the land to her without cost and paying her £1,500 in recognition of the distress caused.

Barnsley borough secretary Andrew Frosdick said: "The council has received the ombudsman's report and, while accepting... that some compensation should be paid to the complainant, there are other aspects of the report that the council does not necessarily accept."

'Great worry'

He said the issue would be discussed formally in March at an Audit Committee meeting.

The ombudsman said it was inconceivable the council could have obtained any value for the land from anyone else other than the woman, who it referred to as Ms J for legal reasons.

Ms J asked Barnsley Council to sell her a narrow strip of land along the side boundary of her home. She was building an extension and wanted the land to use as a path to the front and back of her home.

The council agreed to sell the land for £2,950.

But before the sale was completed a council officer visited her and decided that her extension was being built onto a small, triangular part of the strip it had agreed to sell so the land would have to be revalued.

The council decided the small triangular piece of land it believed the extension was on had a greater value than if it was just used for a path.

It said it now wanted £7,000 for the land - effectively valuing the small triangle of land, 20cm (7in) at its widest point, at £4,000.

"This caused Ms J a great deal of worry, together with delay and additional expense in building her extension," said the ombudsman's report.

"The council's suggestion that Ms J had inflicted delay on herself by complaining was reprehensible."

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