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Braintree District Council (17 018 766)

Category : Planning > Enforcement

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 27 Mar 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate Mr X’s complaint that the Council has not determined similar planning applications consistently. The Council’s decisions on his neighbours’ applications have not caused him significant injustice and if Mr X disputed its decision on his application it would have been reasonable for him to appeal.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Mr X, complains about the Council’s lack of consistency in deciding planning applications for replacement window and door frames. He also complains the Council has failed to follow its policies and did not properly handle his complaint.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. 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:
  • it is unlikely we would find fault, or
  • the fault has not caused injustice to the person who complained, or
  • the injustice is not significant enough to justify our involvement, or
  • it is unlikely we could add to any previous investigation by the Council, or
  • it is unlikely further investigation will lead to a different outcome, or
  • we cannot achieve the outcome someone wants, or
  • there is another body better placed to consider this complaint, or
  • it would be reasonable for the person to ask for a council review or appeal.

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

  1. The Local Government Act 1974 sets out our powers but also imposes restrictions on what we can investigate.
  2. We cannot investigate late complaints unless we decide there are good reasons. Late complaints are when someone takes more than 12 months to complain to us about something a council has done. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26B and 34D, as amended)
  3. The law says we cannot normally investigate a complaint when someone can appeal to a government minister. However, we may decide to investigate if we consider it would be unreasonable to expect the person to appeal. (Local Government Act 1974, section 26(6)(b))
  4. The Planning Inspector acts on behalf of the responsible Government minister. The Planning Inspector considers appeals about:
  • delay – usually over eight weeks – by an authority in deciding an application for planning permission
  • a decision to refuse planning permission
  • conditions placed on planning permission
  • a planning enforcement notice.
  1. 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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I reviewed Mr X’s correspondence with the Council, shared my draft decision with Mr X and considered his comments.

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What I found

  1. Mr X applied to the Council to replace his current window and door frames with UPVC in 2015. The Council refused his application as his property is within a conservation area and it did not consider use of UPVC appropriate. Mr X has since monitored applications by his neighbours for similar alterations, some of which have been approved. He believes this shows inconsistency by the Council and a failure to follow its policies. He has also reported possible breaches of planning control by his neighbours where he believes materials used do not conform to the standard his proposal was assessed against.
  2. Mr X sent several emails to the Council asking for its comments on the inconsistencies he has highlighted but remains unhappy with its replies. He complained but was not satisfied with the Council’s response.
  3. The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint. Our role is to remedy injustice caused by fault. While Mr X complains about a lack of consistency by the Council in its approach to window and door frame materials, his substantive injustice stems from the Council’s decision to refuse his application; its decisions on his neighbour’s applications have not caused him significant injustice. The Council made its decision on Mr X’s application more than 12 months ago and had Mr X disagreed with it, it would have been reasonable for him to appeal.
  4. Although Mr X’s complaint focuses on the Council’s recent decisions and its lack of formal enforcement action against his neighbour, any benefit to Mr X’s neighbours is not an injustice to Mr X. These actions do not therefore provide grounds for us to investigate this complaint.
  5. Mr X also complains about the Council’s handling of his complaint but we will not investigate this issue in isolation. It is peripheral to his main complaint about the Council’s inconsistency and has not itself caused him significant injustice.

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Final decision

  1. The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint. This is because the Council’s recent decisions on Mr X’s neighbours’ applications have not caused him significant injustice.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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