The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: There was no fault by the Council in a complaint about its handling of a planning application for a development close to the complainant’s home.
- The complainant, whom I refer to here as Mrs X, is dissatisfied with the Council’s handling of a planning application for a development close to her home. Mrs X says the Council:
- does not follow its own procedures, stated values and behaviours;
- disregards the views of local residents;
- does not consult on planning applications; and
- communicates extremely poorly;
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’. If there has been fault which has caused an injustice, we may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1), as amended)
- 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)
How I considered this complaint
- I examined the complaint and background information provided by Mrs X and the Council. I sent a draft decision statement to Mrs X and the Council. I considered Mrs X’s comments in reply.
What I found
- The Council received an outline planning application for a development on land close to Mrs X’s home. The Council notified residents about the application and received objections against it. Due to an administrative error the planned committee meeting to determine the application was delayed and the Council emailed Mrs X and others about the new date of the online meeting.
- Mrs X attended the meeting and objectors to the application were given the standard 5 minutes to speak against it.
- For the purposes of this investigation it is not necessary to set out in great detail the facts of the case. I do not intend to set out Mrs X’s objections in this statement for the reasons of brevity and anonymity. They are of course known to Mrs X and the Council.
- I note the delegated report included information on the site, the proposal, the relevant constraints, the consultation process that had been conducted, the representations that had been received and an assessment of the planning issues.
- The Committee decided to grant outline consent. A reserved matters application is currently before the Council.
- Unhappy with the Council’s handling of matters, including the use of email to notify those who had commented on the application about the delayed committee meeting, Mrs X made a formal complaint to the Council.
- The Council explained the consultation process it conducted on the planning application. It acknowledged notifications for the original committee meeting had not been sent but said this was why the meeting was rescheduled. On Mrs X’s allegation that planning considerations were ignored or not taken into account, the Council referred Mrs X to sections of the committee report that addressed the considerations she referred to.
- As to consultation, I am satisfied the Council met the statutory requirement for publicising the planning application. I note Mrs X wanted the Council to engage with her and others to a much greater degree. But that level of contact was at the Council’s discretion. I cannot criticise it now because it chose not to go beyond the statutory requirement.
- Planning authorities are required to have regard to all material planning considerations. What amounts to a material consideration is a question of law. That is for the courts to adjudicate upon. The weight to be given to such material considerations – and the part any particular material consideration should play in a decision-making process – is a question of judgement and is a matter entirely for those whom Parliament has assigned the task of decision-making. I have examined the committee report with this in mind.
- The committee report set out the local plan policies as well as material planning considerations that applied to the application. It provided reasoned justification for the judgement reached by the planning officer. I am therefore satisfied the Council took account of all material considerations including the proposal’s impact on Mrs X’s amenity and the status of the site as protected open land. I do not find fault by the Council.
- I note there were minor failings in the Council’s handling of contact with Mrs X and other residents. The Council accepted planning application documents had not been properly uploaded on to its website which led to an extension of the public consultation period. Elsewhere, there was a delay in responding to Mrs X’s stage one complaint. These minor failings are not significant enough for me to conclude there was fault by the Council.
- I note Mrs X made a complaint to the Information Commissioner about a breach of confidentiality in the Council’s dealings with her.
- I closed this complaint because I did not find fault by the Council.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman