West Lindsey District Council (16 010 030)

Category : Planning > Planning advice

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 31 Jan 2017

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: There is no evidence of fault in the way the Council responded to Mr X’s request for pre-application advice.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Mr X complains the Council gave incomplete pre- application advice which led Mr X to make a full planning application. The Council refused the planning application on grounds not previously discussed. Had Mr X been aware of these additional concerns he would not have submitted a full application, or incurred an application fee of £398.

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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’. 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))

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How I considered this complaint

  1. As part of the investigation, I have:
    • considered the complaint and the documents provided by Mr X;
    • made enquiries of the Council and considered the comments and documents the Council provided;
    • discussed the issues with Mr X;
    • sent a statement setting out my draft decision to Mr X and the Council and invited their comments. I have considered Mr X and the Council’s responses.

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What I found

  1. In late 2015 Mr X asked the Council for pre-application advice on a proposal to change the use of an existing annex building to a dwelling with addition of a modest conversion to provide additional accommodation.
  2. Councils must determine planning applications in accordance with the development plan, unless material considerations indicate otherwise. At the time of the application the Council was considering the results of a second consultation on the Draft Central Lincolnshire Local Plan.
  3. The Council advised Mr X that in accordance with paragraph 216 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), it would use the policies contained in the emerging Central Lincolnshire Local Plan. But they would only be given limited weight. The amount of ‘weight’ to be given to the emerging plan depends on the stage of preparation, the extent to which there are unresolved objections to relevant policies, and the degree of consistency between the policies with in the plan and the policies in the NPPF.
  4. The Council advised Mr X the principle of the proposal could not be supported due to the site’s unsustainable location.
  5. Based on this advice Mr X did not apply for planning permission at that time.
  6. However in the summer of 2016 Mr X submitted a planning application for the change of use and conversion of the annex. He noted the emerging local plan now allowed for some limited development in small villages where previously it would not be supported on sustainability grounds. Its advanced stage of preparation meant it would also now carry more weight. Mr X did not seek further pre-application advice before submitting his planning application.
  7. The Council assessed the application and determined the principle of the proposal was now acceptable. However the Council refused the application as it would represent unacceptable overdevelopment and the floor space provided fell below the recommendations of the Nationally Described Space Standards.
  8. Mr X did not appeal this decision, but complained that the Council had provided incomplete pre-application advice. Mr X asserted he would not have made a planning application had the Council identified all of its concerns with the proposal at the pre-application stage. Mr X asked the Council to refund his pre-application fee of £198 and the application fee of £385.
  9. The Council’s response to Mr X’s complaint states the initial task in assessing proposals is to determine whether the principle of development is acceptable or not. As the principle of development was not acceptable due to the unsustainable location the Council did not consider it necessary to go on to consider the lay out or residential amenity. The Council states it could have provided a more detailed response if Mr X had requested it.
  10. The Council, as a gesture of goodwill, has refunded Mr X’s pre-application fee. The Council does not consider there are grounds to refund the planning application fee.
  11. Mr X disagrees and has asked the Ombudsman to investigate his complaint.
  12. In response to my enquiries the Council has reiterated it view that as development in principle would not be supported it would have been superfluous to have provided detailed site specific advice on matters such as overdevelopment. It suggests that to have done so may have been perceived as encouragement to Mr X to submit a formal application, which was not the Council’s intention.
  13. The Council states Mr X did not seek more up to date advice from the Council before submitting the application. Mr X made the decision to disregard the Council’s advice and make a planning application. The Council does not accept it should be held to account for this.
  14. Mr X’s response to my draft decision reiterates his view that the Council’s pre application advice was inadequate and incomplete. He refers to the Council’s publication and website page on pre-application advice and asserts he did not receive the service he should have. Mr X states he contacted the Council again before submitting the full application. He believes officers should have used this opportunity to expand on the pre-application advice.
  15. Given the history of the site and a previous refusal of planning permission on grounds of overdevelopment, Mr X asserts the Council should have raised this as a concern. Had it done so he would not have applied for planning permission.

Analysis

  1. There is no evidence of fault in the way the Council responded to Mr X’s request for pre-application advice.
  2. The Council assessed Mr X’s proposal based on the planning policy position at that time and determined it would not support the principle of development. There is no suggestion this advice was incorrect. As the proposal did not satisfy this initial requirement, the Council did not consider it necessary to go on to assess the site specific details. This is an appropriate decision.
  3. At that time issues such as the lay out and pedestrian access were immaterial given the site’s unsustainable location. Mr X would have been aware of concerns raised in his previous applications to develop the site and it was open to him to seek further advice in light of the increased weight that could subsequently be given to the emerging local plan.

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Decision

  1. There is no evidence of fault in the way the Council responded to Mr X’s request for pre-application advice.

Investigator’s decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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