A COUNCIL has been told to pay compensation to a resident of a complex for elderly and vulnerable people in a row over trimming trees and bird mess making paths hazardous.

In rejecting an appeal by Darlington Borough Council and finding “service failure”, the Housing Ombudsman said the authority should arrange an inspection of trees at Church Row, Hurworth and carry out a study of the impact of overhanging branches on the residents.

The ombudsman has also told the council it should consider honouring a “compromise agreement” already in place with a resident over bird feeding and reiterate the specific times of year that bird feeding can take place.

Former Hurworth Parish councillor Ian White, who is one of the tenants of the 12 council properties, said the ombudsman’s findings followed years of frustration over the council allowing the trees to overhang paths. He is set to receive £100 compensation from the council. He said: “Feral pigeons are making everyone’s lives here a misery.”

In response to the findings, the council arranged a meeting last week which several residents, a housing officer, a long-serving senior council officer and the ward councillor, Lorraine Tostevin, attended.

Another resident, John Edwards, said the council officer appeared to have attended the remedial meeting with a closed mind, and became visibly irate when Mr White questioned why the authority had allowed hundreds of trees to be felled at Blackwell, before leaving the meeting. Mr Edwards said: “The officer was clearly only there because he had to be. I could see he was getting very angry and hot under the collar.”

Mr White, a qualified paralegal, said following the meeting he lodged a complaint about the officer’s behaviour and attitude and had put the council on notice of “nonfeasance in public office” – legal action for failing to undertake duties, should there be an accident.

The council has confirmed its Environmental Services department has launched an investigation into the incident, which will conclude later this month.

Cllr Tostevin said due to the investigation it would be inappropriate for her to comment on the incident or situation at Church Row.

A council spokeswoman highlighted the ombudsman said it should “arrange an inspection of the trees and share its findings with the complainant, including any necessary works and associated timescales. If no works are identified, the landlord should clearly explain to the complainant why this is the case”.

She said: “We have worked with the housing ombudsman to address the concerns of Mr White. The initial complaint focused on another resident feeding the birds in the communal gardens and an issue with overhanging branches. Alongside mediation between the two parties, the council undertook pruning work to selected trees and removed one tree.

“An Equality Impact assessment to look at potential dangers posed to residents by bird droppings, was also undertaken at this point. At the request of the ombudsman, we are in the process of reviewing this assessment. We have also written to the resident again regarding feeding the birds. In response to a further request by the ombudsman, another inspection of the trees was arranged. Following this, Mr White has made a complaint against a member of staff which is currently being investigated in accordance with our Corporate Complaints Procedure.”