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London Borough of Hounslow (16 013 170)

Category : Planning > Planning advice

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 08 Mar 2017

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr X’s complains the Council provided unreasonable advice on his proposals to develop a plot of land. The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint as it is unlikely he will find fault.

The complaint

  1. Mr X says the Council has provided unreasonable advice on his proposals to develop a plot of land. He says it has refused to disregard the planning inspector’s decisions for previous applications for the site. Also it is imposing unreasonable conditions about the impact of his proposal on the spaciousness of the area.

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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. 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
  • the fault has not caused injustice to the person who complained
  • it is unlikely further investigation will lead to a different outcome

(Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered the information provided by Mr X and discussed his complaint with him. I have also considered the information provided by the Council.
  2. Mr X had the opportunity to comment on the draft version of this decision.

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What I found

  1. Mr X owns a plot of land which he wants to develop. Previous applications for houses on the site have been refused by the Council and the planning inspector.
  2. In March the Council met with Mr X and his planning agent to discuss his latest proposal. Following the meeting it sent written advice. It told Mr X that previous planning decisions made by the planning inspector are material planning considerations and will be taken into account when considering any planning application.
  3. Mr X disagrees with the advice provided by the Council. He and his agent have corresponded with several officers at the Council for several months about the planning advice. However, he has not submitted a new planning application to the Council.

Assessment

  1. Mr X says the planning inspector’s previous decisions do not apply for the new proposals and the Council is wrong to take them into account. He wants the Ombudsman to carry out an independent review because he has exhausted avenues to form a basis for agreement with the Council on developing the site. He also says the council has treated him unfairly and is biased against him.
  2. The Ombudsman has no remit to judge on planning issues. He may only consider if there was fault in the way those issues were considered and decided. It is the Council’s task to weigh up the relevant planning considerations before giving an opinion on a particular pre-application proposal.
  3. While Mr X is unhappy with the advice the Council has provided, there is not enough evidence of fault with the advice given to warrant an investigation by the Ombudsman. This is because:
    • Council officers provided pre-application advice based on the information provided.
    • Pre-application advice is informal and is intended to guide applicants on the planning policies they must consider when making a planning application.
    • Officers have concerns about Mr X’s proposal for the development and have provided advice accordingly.
       
  4. Mr X can test the Council’s advice by submitting a planning application. It is up to him whether he takes the Council’s advice into account or not. The Council is required to consider all applications on their merits, including all material planning considerations.
  5. Mr X has not provided any evidence to support his complaint that the Council has treated him unfairly or is based towards him.
  6. In addition the Local Government Act 1974 says the Ombudsman may only investigate complaints of maladministration by the Council causing injustice to the complainant. Any injustice to Mr X will arise, presumably, only if he submits an application which is in line with the advice the Council provided and it is refused. In this case he will be able to appeal to the planning inspector.

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Final decision

  1. I will not investigate Mr X’s complaint that the Council has given him incorrect and unreasonable planning advice. This is because it is unlikely I will find evidence of fault by the Council.

Investigator’s decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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