The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr X complained about the Council’s decision to approve an application on land behind his former home. We ended our investigation because we are unlikely to recommend a remedy for Mr X.
- Mr X complained about the Council’s decision to approve a planning application on land at the rear of his home. Mr X says the new development affected his amenities.
- Mr X says the development:
- was obtained unlawfully;
- was built without planning permission;
- breached his human rights;
- did not follow Council policy;
- caused distress and financial loss to him and his family.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- 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 further investigation will lead to a different outcome, or
- we cannot achieve the outcome someone wants.
(Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- I read the complaint and discussed it with Mr 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 Mr X and the Council an opportunity to comment on a draft of this decision and took account of the comments I received.
What I found
Planning law and guidance
- Councils should approve planning applications that accord with policies on 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 over another’s land;
- the impact of development on property value; and
- private rights and interests in land.
- Since making his complaint, Mr X has moved home. The land behind Mr X’s previous home was subject to a planning application to extend a building.
- As a result of the permission, before he moved, Mr X had a single storey building with obscurely glazed windows 28 metres behind him. There were bright lights on the wall facing towards Mr X, which disturbed him. Mr X also says a new footpath on land between the boundary and the extended building affected him.
- Before we investigate complaints, we need evidence to show the individual complainant was caused a significant injustice by the Council’s actions. We rely on the injustice to the complainant to justify the disruptions our investigations inevitably cause to the day-to-day work of council officers and the pressure that is placed on the public purse.
- I did not consider it likely we would be able to find a significant injustice that we could now remedy, and my reasons are as follows:
- Mr X has moved away from the area and is no longer affected by the new development. Mr X might claim to have moved home because of what has happened, but we would not be able to demonstrate the reasons for his move with any satisfactory degree of certainty. There can be many reasons why an individual might choose to move home.
- Our normal remedies, if we find fault, involve practical measures, like recommending screening by additional planting or lamp cowls to shade bright lights. We may sometimes recommend payments for practical solutions on a complainant’s land. Mr X has sold the house next to the site and so would not benefit from any measure we might recommend.
- Mr X may have carried out improvements himself, to protect his former home from the impact of the development. We cannot know the extent to which these improvements might have benefited Mr X when he came to sell his house.
- For consideration of privacy in habitable rooms in Mr X’s former house, it is unlikely we would have been able to recommend a remedy. This is because Mr X had a greater separation distance than is normally expected.
- We would not be able to determine whether Mr X’s human rights were breached, but in any event, I can see the Council considered the impact on his amenity before it made its decision. There would also have been a right to challenge the Council’s decision by way of judicial review.
- I ended my investigation as it is unlikely that we would be able to recommend a remedy for Mr X.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman