Planning issues top complaints to Public Service Ombudsman

Highland Council headquarters In Inverness. NO F19 council HQ
Highland Council headquarters In Inverness.

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Planning was the top service complaint for residents of the Highland Council area last year.

While housing tops the list of complaints for other local authorities, planning woes were the number one subject of complaint in the Highlands.

In 2020-21, 39 complaints were made about the Highland Council to the Scottish Public Service Ombudsman.

Of these, 35.9 per cent related to the planning process. Housing was second, with 17.95 per cent and finance-related issues came third.

In other local authority areas, housing complaints are the most common, followed by social work and then planning.

The figures are part of the annual report of Scottish Public Service Ombudsman cases, which will be discussed by councillors at the audit and scrutiny committee on Thursday.

Overall, the report paints a positive picture.

Total complaints determined by SPSO have dropped from 53 last year to 41 this year. In 16 of those cases, the SPSO judged that the council had handled the complaint properly and declined to investigate at all.

This was the case in 39 per cent of all complaints.

Only one case was fully upheld in the time frame – a complaint relating to the council not following its own child protection guidance.

This upheld case was detailed to councillors at a meeting in June and has now been resolved.

Committee chairman Graham Mackenzie was upbeat about the report, saying there was ‘much to be positive about’.

Reflecting on the prevalence of planning complaints, he observed that Highland has one of the busiest planning departments in Scotland.

Highland is also home to a large number of wind farms, which often prompt enormous public scrutiny as residents grapple with the positive and negative impacts on their local area.