The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mrs X complained about the Council’s handling of her neighbour’s planning application. We ended our investigation as it is unlikely to result in a finding of fault or a significant injustice to Mrs X.
- Mrs X complained about the Council’s handling of a planning application for development on her neighbour’s land. Mrs X also complained about the Council's decision not to take planning enforcement action and how it dealt with her through its complaints process.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- 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
- any injustice is not significant enough to justify our involvement, or
- we could not add to any previous investigation by the organisation, or
- further investigation would not lead to a different outcome, or
- we cannot achieve the outcome someone wants.
(Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6))
How I considered this complaint
- I read the complaint and discussed it with Mrs X. I read the Council’s response to the complaint and considered documents from its planning files, including the plans and the case officer’s report.
- I gave Mrs X and the Council an opportunity to comment on an earlier draft of this decision and took account of the comments I received before making a final decision.
What I found
Planning law and guidance
- Councils should approve planning applications that accord with policies in the local development plan, unless other material planning considerations indicate they should not.
- Planning considerations include things like:
- access to the highway;
- protection of ecological and heritage assets; and
- the impact on neighbouring amenity.
- views from a property;
- the impact of development on property value; and
- private rights and interests in land.
- The land next to Mrs X’s home had planning permission to demolish the existing house and to build a larger replacement.
- The developer sought permission to amend the design, increasing its depth. Before a decision was made, a planning case officer wrote a report, which included:
- a description of the proposal and site;
- a summary of relevant planning history;
- reference to relevant planning policy and guidance;
- an appraisal of the main planning considerations, including impact on amenity and highway safety; and
- the officer’s recommendation to approve the application, subject to planning conditions.
- We are not a planning appeal body. Our role is to review the process by which planning decisions are made. We look for evidence of fault causing a significant injustice to the individual complainant.
- Before we begin or continue our investigations, we consider two, linked questions, which are as follows:
- Is it likely there was fault?
- Is it likely any fault caused a significant injustice?
- not to investigate; or
- to end an investigation we have already started.
- before it made its decision to approve the amendments, the Council took account of key material planning considerations and so it is unlikely we would find fault in the decision-making process;
- before it made its planning enforcement decision, it considered the allegation, its powers and the circumstances it found on the site, so it is unlikely we would find fault in the decision-making process; and
- Mrs X’s home is at an angle and significant distance from the new development. Because of this, even if we did find evidence of fault in the Council's actions, it is unlikely we would be able to say the outcome would have been any different or that the new structure causes a significant injustice that we should remedy.
- I found no good reason to investigate the substantive planning issue, so it is unlikely that an investigation into how the Council handled Ms X’s subsequent complaint about it would lead to a significant remedy;
- I checked our records about the Council’s complaint process issues but have seen no evidence to suggest systemic failure or a likely injustice to others.
- The planning services core functions are to provide advice to potential applicants, consider and decide planning applications, investigate planning enforcement complaints and updating/making planning policy. Each authority must decide how best to use its time and resources, and we cannot direct Councils on how they should carry out their functions.
- I ended my investigation because it is unlikely to result in a finding of fault or a remedy for Mrs X.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman