The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr B complains about the Council’s consideration of a planning application for the development of a house close to the rear boundary of his property. There was no fault in the Council’s consideration.
- Mr B complains about the Council’s consideration of a planning application for the development of a house close to the rear boundary of his property. He also complains about the Council’s response to his reports of breaches of working hours conditions and to his concern about the height of the house.
- Mr B considers the house has an unacceptably overbearing impact on his property and causes a loss of light and overlooking.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- We investigate complaints of injustice caused by ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. We cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), as amended)
- If we are satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, we can complete our investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- I considered the complaint and documents provided by Mr B and spoke to him. I asked the Council to comment on the complaint and provide information. I sent a draft of this statement to Mr B and the Council and considered their comments.
What I found
Summary of events
- Mr B lives in a detached property. The rear of his property faces the development site at a slight angle so it is not directly facing the boundary. The new house has a gable wall which faces Mr B’s boundary and is in line with it, with a separation of about 1m. The windows in the new house do not face Mr B’s home but there are windows on the rear elevation which would provide a view, at an angle, over Mr B’s garden. He also considers there will be a line of sight into his conservatory.
- The Council considered the planning application at the planning committee. The report on the application referred to the impact on Mr B’s property. It said the plots came close to the existing dwellings, including Mr B’s. It went on that the development in respect of the plots closest to Mr B were sited and designed in a way which meant they met the Council’s adopted privacy separation distances. The location of the houses in relation to their orientation to other dwellings meant that they were not considered to be detrimental in terms of loss of light or amenity for nearby residents.
- The Council has commented that its Design Guide would expect a minimum distance of 12m from a neighbour’s main window to a two storey development, 10.5m in the case of a secondary window (such as a bedroom) and 8m to a tertiary window (such as kitchen). The new dwelling is about 7m from Mr B’s kitchen window so does not meet this requirement but it is offset from the rear of the Mr B’s house. The Council did not, therefore, consider it to conflict with the Design Guide in respect of overbearing or overshadowing of Mr B’s property.
- All decisions on planning applications must be made in accordance with the development plan, unless material considerations indicate otherwise. Material considerations relate to the use and development of land in the public interest, and not to private considerations such as the applicant’s personal conduct, covenants or reduction in the value of a property. Material considerations include issues such as overlooking, traffic generation and noise. Local opposition or support for a proposal is not in itself a ground for refusing or granting planning permission, unless is it founded upon valid material planning reasons. It is for the decision maker to decide the weight to be given to any material consideration in determining a planning application.
Consideration of the impact on Mr B
- The Council had to consider the impact the development would have on Mr B and other nearby neighbours as part of its consideration of the planning application. Development can have an adverse impact on neighbours but that does not mean it must be refused; the Council has to weigh up all the relevant considerations. Here the Council has demonstrated that it did consider the impact on Mr B and looked at that against its design principles. It concluded the impact was not so great that it should refuse planning permission. I do not consider there was any fault in the way the Council reached that decision.
Height of the development
- Mr B complained that the development was higher than he had understood it would be from the approved plans. An officer visited the site and checked the development against the plans. He found that it was being built in accordance with the plans.
- Mr B has commented that the enforcement officer came on site when the building was only built to about four courses of brickwork: he does not, therefore, consider that there was an adequate assessment of the finished property. The Council has said that this point was not considered as part of its consideration of Mr B’s complaint.
- I have no grounds to say there was any fault in the action the Council took when Mr B reported his concerns but the Council has provided little information about the detail of its investigation. If Mr B wants to pursue this as a complaint he could do so, or the Council could inspect the finished building to establish whether it accords with the approved plans.
- Mr B complained when work started about work taking place outside the hours that were limited by a condition on the planning permission. In January 2019 he reported working on a Sunday. An officer visited the site and reminded the contractors that it was not permitted. In May Mr B reported to the Council a further eight instances of working on a Saturday or Sunday outside the permitted times or on a bank holiday. The officer emailed the contractor who responded to say they would address the matter. The Council did not receive any further complaints.
- There was not any fault in the way the Council responded to the complaints made by Mr B.
- Subject to further comments by Mr B and the Council, I intend to find there was no fault by the Council.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman