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Cornwall Council (20 004 650)

Category : Planning > Planning advice

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 19 Oct 2020

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate Mrs X’s complaint about the planning advice she received from the Council. This is because we would be unlikely to find fault and there is no evidence of significant injustice to Mrs X.

The complaint

  1. Mrs X complains about the planning advice she received from the Council. She says the Council has not tried to resolve the dispute about whether the work she has done should get planning permission.

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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’. 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. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
  2. 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)
  3. The law says we cannot normally investigate a complaint when someone can appeal to a government minister. However, we may decide to investigate if we consider it would be unreasonable to expect the person to appeal. (Local Government Act 1974, section 26(6)(b))
  4. The Planning Inspector acts on behalf of the responsible Government minister. The Planning Inspector considers appeals about:
  • delay – usually over eight weeks – by an authority in deciding an application for planning permission
  • a decision to refuse planning permission
  • conditions placed on planning permission
  • a planning enforcement notice.

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered the information provided by Mrs X in her complaint, the Council’s responses to her and the Council’s planning advice letter.
  2. I sent a copy of my draft decision to Mrs X. I considered her comments before making a final decision.

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What I found

Background

  1. Mrs X made some changes to her home.
  2. The Council decided these changes were not Permitted Development and, because Mrs X did not have planning permission to make the changes, started planning enforcement action.
  3. The local parish council advised Mrs X to seek pre-application advice from the Council, which she did, paying an £80 fee. While Mrs X sought this advice, the Council suspended the enforcement action.
  4. The Council considered the changes Mrs X had made and, based on the information she provided, advised her she would be unlikely to get planning application if she applied.
  5. Mrs X disagrees with the Council’s advice. She says the Council’s policies means it should have done more to find a solution which would mean the work would be approved. She also says the Council did not consider her individual proposals.
  6. She also says the Council’s response to her complaint were inconsistent with the original advice.

Analysis

  1. Councils should act in good faith and with due diligence in providing pre-application advice. But, councils are not agents or consultants for developers. Councils do not have to provide advice about how proposals should be changed.
  2. I appreciate Mrs X disagrees with the planning officer’s conclusions and advice. However, the Ombudsman does not act as an appeal body and we cannot intervene simply because the Council makes a decision that someone disagrees with.
  3. The evidence I have seen shows the Council considered the information provided by Mrs X and the relevant Council policies. The Council does not have to advise Mrs X on how to address its planning concerns, so we would be unlikely to find fault with how the Council provided the advice.
  4. I do not consider the responses to Mrs X’s complaint were inconsistent with each other or the advice the Council originally provided. Although the complaint responses focus on different issues, each was made in response to different points Mrs X made. Taken together, the advice and responses are consistent with the planning concerns identified in the original advice.
  5. The Council has not yet taken formal enforcement action against Mrs X and Mrs X has not yet applied for planning permission. Therefore, there is no evidence the Council’s advice has caused Mrs X a significant injustice.
  6. If the Council takes formal enforcement action or refuses Mrs X’s application for planning permission, Mrs X will can appeal these decisions to the Planning Inspector.

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Final decision

  1. The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint. This is because we would be unlikely to find fault and there is no evidence of significant injustice to Mrs X.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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