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Chorley Borough Council (20 008 142)

Category : Planning > COVID-19

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 24 Mar 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr X complains about the Council’s decision to grant planning permission for a development close to his home. We will not investigate this complaint as we are unlikely to find fault in the Council’s actions. Nor do we consider Mr X has been caused a significant personal injustice.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, I shall call Mr X, says the Council:
    • failed to follow the correct consultation process
    • failed to properly consider the car parking provision for the development
    • will build on recreation land which was granted to the residents in 1916 forever
  2. He says he finds this distressing and upsetting. He also says:
    • he has been denied his right to ‘due process’ because the Council did not properly consult residents
    • the development will impact on his light and sunlight, will probably create noise, and will probably reduce water pressure; and
    • lack of parking for the development will force people to park outside his house

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. 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)
  2. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. We provide a free service but must use public money carefully. We may decide not to start or continue with an investigation if we believe:
    • the fault has not caused injustice to the person who complained
    • it is unlikely further investigation will lead to a different outcome
    • we cannot achieve the outcome someone wants

(Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered:
    • the information provided by Mr X and discussed the complaint with him
    • the planning information on the Council’s website,
    • relevant planning law and the Council’s responses to Mr X’s complaints; and
    • Mr X’s comments on the draft version of this decision.

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What I found

The Consultation

  1. Before submitting a planning application, the Council consulted residents on proposals to redevelop a site close to Mr X’s home. The site comprises of a disused bus garage with associated parking, a road and a recreation ground.
  2. The Council says:
    • It delivered leaflets and held a drop-in session at the community centre in 2019.
    • In January 2020 it held a community group meeting. It also delivered more leaflets to nearby properties and held another drop-in session; and
    • In the first week of July a further 200 plus leaflets were delivered.
  3. Mr X is not satisfied with the consultation and says he did not receive a leaflet.
  4. In person consultation meetings were not possible due to COVID 19 restrictions. However, the Government encouraged local planning authorities to continue to proceed with planning applications using electronic and other means for consultation and meetings. The Government did not make any changes to the statutory planning process.
  5. I understand Mr X did not receive a leaflet. However, the purpose of such information is to ensure recipients are aware of the proposals. Mr X was aware of the proposal and was able to object to the resulting planning application.
  6. It is unlikely that we will find fault, or that further investigation will lead to a different outcome on this point.

Publicity for the Planning application

  1. The Council confirms it sends neighbour notification letters when it validates planning applications. Site notices are usually put up by the case officers when they visit the site. Therefore, there is often a delay between letters sent on validation and site notices displayed at the site visit. In this case the Council also placed a press notice about the application in the local paper.
  2. The formal consultation period for the application ran between 12 August 2020 to 23 September 2020. However, the Council says it accepted comments on the application as late as the end of October.
  3. The law requires local planning authorities to publicise all planning applications. Depending on the nature of the development, publication may be by newspaper advertisement and / or site notice and / or neighbour notification (The Town and Country Planning (General Development Procedure) Order 1995.) The notice will invite ‘representations’ for or against the application and explain how those representations may be made. The opportunity to make representations is not the same as being consulted. The authority must consider all material representations it receives.
  4. The Council appears to have met the requirements for publicising the application. It is unlikely that further investigation will lead to a different outcome.

Consideration of the planning application

  1. Local Planning Authorities must consider each planning application it receives on its own merits and decide it in line with their local planning policies unless material considerations suggest otherwise. Material considerations concern the use and development of land in the public interest and include issues such as overlooking, traffic generation and noise.
  2. 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. General planning policies may pull in different directions for example in promoting residential development and protecting residential amenities. It is for the decision maker to decide the weight to be given to any material consideration in determining a planning application.
  3. The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is a material consideration in deciding planning applications. It sets out a “presumption in favour of sustainable development”. The NPPF says this presumption means, when deciding planning applications:

“where there are no relevant development plan policies, or the policies which are most important for determining the application are out-of-date, granting planning permission unless…any adverse impacts of doing so would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits, when assessed against the policies in [the NPPF] taken as a whole.”

  1. A council planning officer will normally visit the application site and write a report assessing the proposed development. The report will refer to relevant planning policies and the planning history of the site; summarise peoples’ comments; and consider the main planning issues for deciding the application. The assessment often requires the planning officer to balance and weigh the planning issues and judge the merits of the proposed development. The report usually ends with a recommendation to grant or refuse planning permission.
  2. Some applications go to the council’s planning committee for councillors to decide the application. The Committee Members may disagree with the case officer’s recommendation because it is for the decision maker to decide the weight given to any material consideration when deciding a planning application.
  3. The planning application Mr X complains about is the Council’s own planning application for:
    • 62 assisted living apartments with community facilities including a community centre, nursery, café, hair salon, GP surgery and pharmacy
    • demolition of existing nursery, community centre and bowling club hut
    • regeneration of existing recreation ground
    • construction of a bowling club facility
  4. As discussed above, the Council publicised the application. Following the consultation period, the Planning Officer prepared a report on the scheme.
  5. Mr X says the description of the application is misleading and the Council should have considered the proposal over 3 separate sites. However, I have reviewed the information on the Council’s website and the location of the proposed development is clear.
  6. The Case Officer prepared a lengthily and detailed report on the scheme. The report includes a summary of 11 objections it received on the application, including those from Mr X.
  7. The Case Officer notes the local policies. The report explains why the proposed development is either in line with those policies, or why, in the Officer’s opinion, the benefits of the proposal outweigh the possible negative impact.
  8. The report also addresses Mr X’s concerns about overshadowing and parking. The Case Officer notes some homes, including those in Mr X’s road will experience overshadowing. However, the existing building which will be replaced already causes some overshadowing. The Case Officer’s opinion was the proposal will not significantly worsen the existing situation.
  9. The Highways Authority (HA) did not object to the application.
  10. The Council does not have a parking standard for assisted living facilities. The report notes standards apartments require one parking space for one-bedroom apartments and two spaces for apartments with two bedrooms. Sheltered accommodation requires one parking space for every three bedrooms. The Case Officer’s view is neither the requirement for standard apartments of sheltered accommodation applies to this assisted living development. And it is likely car ownership among residents will be low.
  11. Without objections from the Highways Authority, and the highway improvements sought as part of the application, the Officer considered the proposal acceptable.
  12. Mr X says the recreation land was given to the children of the borough in 1916 for time in perpetuity for recreation purposes. The Council has confirmed the land is subject to a restrictive covenant. However, restrictive covenants are not material planning considerations.
  13. The Case Officer report refers to the status of part of the site as recreation land. It confirms the Council’s policy on open space applies. This states that:

“Land and buildings currently or last used as, or ancillary to, open space or sports and recreational facilities will be protected unless:

Alternative facilities of an equivalent or enhanced standard are provided nearby before the existing facilities cease to be available”

  1. The report says a small section of land covered by the above policy will be used for a new building and car parking. However, the application includes enhancements for the remaining part of the ground. A large section of the land is already used for hardstanding and buildings which will be demolished, and new facilities provided elsewhere on the site. The Case Officer considered the application accorded with the relevant policy.
  2. The Council’s Planning Committee considered the application. A member of the public spoke objecting to the proposal. Following a debate Councillors voted overwhelmingly to approve the application.

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Final decision

  1. Mr X disagrees with the Case Officer’s opinion on the acceptability of the planning application. However, I will not investigate this complaint. I have not seen evidence of fault in the process the Council followed before making its decision to approve the planning application. We cannot question a decision the Council has made if it followed the right steps and considered the relevant evidence.
  2. As I have not seen evidence of fault, I do not consider that Mr X has been caused any injustice. will not investigate this complaint.
  3. Finally, we cannot achieve the outcome Mr X is seeking.

Investigator’s decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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