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Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council (21 012 757)

Category : Planning > Building control

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 19 Jan 2022

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Ms X complains the Council failed to consider the impact of her neighbour’s extension on her home when it granted planning permission. The Council failed to keep a record of the reasons for its decision and publish this on its website. The Council has agreed to pay Ms X £100 and apologise for the unnecessary time and trouble caused. The Council should also take action to improve its services. We will not investigate this complaint as the Council has agreed to provide a remedy and there is nothing further we can achieve.

The complaint

  1. Ms X complains the Council approved plans for her neighbour’s extension without considering the impact on her home. Ms X says plans the Council approved were different from the ones they agreed with their neighbours. She says the Council failed to visit her home to see the impact of the extension from her property and has not fully addressed her concerns.
  2. Ms X says the extension has blocked out light to a hallway and impacts on the view from her kitchen window. Ms X says she now has problems with damp in her extension due to work carried out at the neighbouring property.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. The Ombudsman investigates complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’, which we call ‘fault’. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint, which we call ‘injustice’. We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We do not start or may decide not to continue with an investigation if we decide there is not enough evidence of fault to justify investigating, or further investigation would not lead to a different outcome. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6))

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered information provided by the complainant and the Council. I have also considered information about the planning application available on the Council’s website
  2. I considered the Ombudsman’s Assessment Code and Guidance on Remedies.
  3. The complainant now has an opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I will consider their comments before making a final decision.

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My assessment

  1. The law requires the Council to give reasons for a decision to grant planning permission where the decision is made by an officer. These reasons and relevant background papers must be published on the Council’s website.
  2. The Council failed to publish its reasons for its decision to grant planning permission for Ms X’s neighbour’s extension on its website. This is fault. The Council has provided us with a copy of its reasons for granting planning permission, but this is dated after planning permission was granted. Failure to record reasons for a decision at the time the decision is made is also fault.
  3. As a result of these faults Ms X was put to unnecessary time and trouble pursuing her concerns. This is because she was not able to see how the Council had considered the impact of the development on her home when it granted planning permission.
  4. However, it seems likely the Council would still have granted planning permission for Ms X’s neighbour’s extension even if there had been no fault. The Council cannot give significant weight to loss of light to a hallway or kitchen as these are not usually considered “habitable rooms”. The Council is also unable to consider the loss of far reaching view, although outlook from a window is a relevant consideration. However, the outlook affected is from Ms X’s kitchen window and as this is not a habitable room the Council cannot give significant weight to such an impact in reaching a decision on the planning application.
  5. The Council is also not responsible for plans shown to Ms X by her neighbour before construction started. The Council can only consider plans submitted as part of a planning application. The Council is not at fault if the plans it approved are different to those shown to Ms X by her neighbour previously.
  6. The Council is not responsible for enforcing any Party Wall Act agreements between Ms X and her neighbour. If she believes her neighbour’s contractor has caused damage to her property then this would be a civil matter between her and her neighbour and the Council has no duty or power to intervene in such disputes.

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Agreed action

  1. We have recommended the Council takes the following action to remedy the injustice we have identified. The Council has agreed to take the following action:
    • Write to Ms X to apologise for failing to publish its reasons for its decision online and for causing her unnecessary time and trouble.
    • Pay Ms X £100 to acknowledge the unnecessary time and trouble she was caused.
  2. The Council should take the above action within 4 weeks of our final decision.
  3. We have also recommend the Council takes the following action to improve its services:
    • Review its current procedures to ensure it publishes documents in line with the regulations set out above.
    • Review practices by other Council services whose work is caught by these regulations and ensure they are operating lawfully.
  4. The Council should take this action within three months of our final decision and report back to the Ombudsman setting out any action it proposes to take.

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Final decision

  1. We will not investigate this complaint. This is because the Council has agreed to take action to remedy the injustice caused and there is nothing further we could achieve.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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