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South Holland District Council (20 006 107)

Category : Planning > Planning advice

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 13 Nov 2020

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Ombudsman cannot investigate this complaint about how the Council dealt with the complainant’s planning applications or the pre-application advice it gave. This is because the complainant has already appealed to a government minister. The complaint is also late.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Mrs X, has complained about how the Council dealt with her planning applications. Mrs X says the Council wrongly advised her that her land could be developed without restrictions and she has incurred significant costs as a result.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. The Local Government Act 1974 sets out our powers but also imposes restrictions on what we can investigate.
  2. We cannot investigate late complaints unless we decide there are good reasons. Late complaints are when someone takes more than 12 months to complain to us about something a council has done. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26B and 34D, as amended)
  3. We cannot investigate a complaint if someone has appealed to a government minister. The Planning Inspector acts on behalf of a government minister. (Local Government Act 1974, section 26(6)(b), as amended)
  4. 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 have considered Mrs X’s complaint and the Council’s responses. I invited Mrs X to comment on a draft of this decision and have considered her comments in response.

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What I found

  1. When a local authority receives a planning application it must look at the development plan and material planning considerations to decide if the proposal is acceptable. Material considerations relate to the use and development of the land in the public interest and includes matters such as the impact on neighbouring properties and the relevant planning policies. It is for the decision maker to decide the weight to be given to any material considerations in determining a planning application. If the applicant disagrees with the Council’s decision to refuse planning permission, they can appeal to the Planning Inspectorate. The Planning Inspectorate can also consider claims for costs.

What happened

  1. In 2016, Mrs X contacted the Council for pre-application advice regarding her plans to build a residential development. Mrs X says she was told the site had been identified as a possible development location in the draft local plan. Following this advice, Mrs X contacted the Council again as she wanted to be sure the advice was correct before making a full planning application. The Council responded to Mrs X’s concerns and told her the previous pre-application advice was correct.
  2. Mrs X submitted her planning application. However, permission was refused due to the impact the development would have on the character and appearance of the site’s rural location. The Council said the pre-application advice had wrongly been based on a different site and Mrs X’s land was not suitable for residential development.
  3. In 2017, Mrs X applied to the Council for permission to build a smaller residential development at the site. The application was again refused due to the impact on the rural area. Mrs X appealed to the Planning Inspector. She also asked that her claim for costs be considered due to the incorrect pre-application advice she received from the Council. The Planning Inspector dismissed the appeal and refused Mrs X’s claim for costs.

Assessment

  1. I will not investigate this complaint about how the Council dealt with Mrs X’s planning applications and the pre-application advice it provided. This is because Mrs X has already appealed to the Planning Inspectorate and therefore the complaint is outside of the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction.
  2. Mrs X has raised concerns about how the Council dealt with her planning applications. But Mrs X has already appealed to the Planning Inspectorate about the Council’s decision to refuse her second application. She also had the right to appeal against the Council’s decision to refuse the first planning application.
  3. I understand Mrs X has complained about the pre-application advice she received from the Council. She says she has been caused significant stress and incurred costs because of the Council’s incorrect advice. However, Mrs X’s concerns about the pre-application advice were also considered as part of her appeal and the Ombudsman cannot investigate when someone has appealed to the Planning Inspector.
  4. Mrs X’s complaint about the pre-application advice from the Council is also late. A complaint is late if it has taken someone more than 12 months to complain to the Ombudsman. Mrs X has known that the Council’s advice was incorrectly based on the wrong property since 2018. Therefore, the complaint is late, and I do not consider there to be a good reason to exercise discretion in this regard.

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Final decision

  1. The Ombudsman cannot investigate this complaint. This is because Mrs X has already appealed to a government minister.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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