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Northumberland County Council (20 006 648)

Category : Planning > Other

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 13 Aug 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: There was no fault by the Council in the way it considered the potential adverse impact from noise and light when it granted planning permission for a sports pitch near Mr B’s home.

The complaint

  1. Mr B complains that there were failings in the way the Council granted planning permission for a new sports pitch with lighting near to his home. In particular, he considers the Council failed to sufficiently mitigate the potential adverse impact from noise and light pollution, based its decision on an inaccurate noise assessment and advised him to commission his own noise assessment which it then dismissed.
  2. Mr B considers the Council’s decision has resulted in a new sports pitch that will overlook his property, affecting his privacy, and will cause him to be disturbed by noise and light.

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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. If we are satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, we can complete our investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have:
    • considered the complaint and the documents provided by the complainant;
    • discussed the issues with the complainant;
    • made enquiries of the Council and considered the comments and documents the Council has provided; and
    • given the Council and the complainant the opportunity to comment on my draft decision.

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What I found

Overview

  1. Mr B’s home backs on to school playing fields. In September 2019, the Council submitted a planning application to redevelop the school. It included replacement sports pitches, with lighting, near to Mr B’s home.
  2. Mr B objected to the proposal because he considered his family would be disturbed by noise and light when the pitches were in use. He was also concerned by the proposal to raise the pitch level by 1.45 metres. Mr B asked the Council to consider limiting the hours of use of the pitches.
  3. Planning permission was granted by Committee in January 2020. It was decided to add a condition requiring the submission and approval of further details showing the finished levels of the pitches. The details had to include updated light and noise assessments.
  4. The Council decided to raise the pitch height by 1.3 metres, rather than 1.45 metres and it submitted further details in order to discharge the planning condition. Mr B objected to the proposal and raised concerns about the noise assessment which he did not consider had been carried out properly. He then commissioned his own noise consultants. They concluded that the Council’s noise consultants had not carried out an adequate assessment and as a result, they had predicted noise levels 3 to 5 decibels lower than expected by their own analysis.
  5. Mr B’s noise consultant’s report did not address the difference in the proposed pitch heights which was the subject of the discharge of condition application. The Council approved the application in June 2020.

Analysis

  1. When a council considers a planning application it should consider the impact it will have on neighbouring properties. But it is not the case that councils must refuse planning permission for development that will have an adverse impact on other properties. Councils must assess the degree of impact and decide if it is so great that it should refuse the application. This is a judgement the council makes taking into account all the relevant information. Provided the council carries out the assessment properly then we cannot question the decision it has made. I have considered how the Council reached its decision in this case.
  2. Paragraph 180 of the National Planning Policy Framework states:

“Planning policies and decisions should also ensure that new development is appropriate for its location taking into account the likely effects (including cumulative effects) of pollution on health, living conditions and the natural environment, as well as the potential sensitivity of the site or the wider area to impacts that could arise from the development. In doing so they should:

a) mitigate and reduce to a minimum potential adverse impacts resulting from noise from new development – and avoid noise giving rise to significant adverse impacts on health and the quality of life;

b) identify and protect tranquil areas which have remained relatively undisturbed by noise and are prized for their recreational and amenity value for this reason; and

c) limit the impact of light pollution from artificial light on local amenity, intrinsically dark landscapes and nature conservation.”

  1. The report to the Planning Committee and the consultation responses from Environmental Health show that the relevant matters were properly considered. Environmental Health considered the noise from the proposed pitches would be below guidance levels during the day and would have a minimal impact. It also considered the external lighting would meet the relevant guidance and would not result in unacceptable harm or light spill.
  2. Committee members visited the site to properly understand the relationship between the pitches and nearby properties. In order to further mitigate the impact of the pitches, the Council decided to provide additional landscaping and to restrict the operation of lights and use of the pitch which was closest to Mr B’s home to before 9pm, rather than 10pm. I am satisfied that the Council properly considered the impact of the pitches when it decided to grant planning permission.
  3. Environmental Health provided detailed responses to the concerns Mr B raised about the discharge of condition application. As Mr B did not accept the conclusions reached by Environmental Health, it was suggested that Mr B get professional advice to better understand the submitted reports and their implications on the impact of the discharge of the condition.
  4. At the time, planning permission had already been granted and the Council needed to consider whether to discharge the planning condition relating to the level of the pitches. The noise report which Mr B commissioned did not address the difference in the proposed pitch heights, and so was not relevant to the discharge of condition application.
  5. Environmental Health were satisfied that the increased height of the pitch would not have a significant impact. The briefing note prepared by Planning and the consultation responses from Environmental Health show that the relevant matters were properly considered. I have found no evidence of fault here.
  6. Mr B considers the Council decided to grant planning permission on the basis of an inaccurate noise assessment. While the noise assessment Mr B commissioned does reach different conclusions, it does not necessarily follow that the Council’s noise assessment was not accurate. The Council’s noise report was carried out by an independent acoustics consultancy firm and was carefully scrutinised by Environmental Health. The Council was satisfied that the noise levels would be below guidance levels during the day. I have found no evidence of fault in the way this decision was reached.
  7. Should Mr B consider the pitches are causing a noise or light nuisance once they are in use, he may wish to consider making a statutory nuisance complaint. The Council will have a duty to investigate, and if it finds evidence that a nuisance exists, it will have to ensure the nuisance is abated.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation and do not uphold Mr B’s complaint. There was no fault by the Council.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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