The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: We will not investigate this complaint about the Council’s pre-application advice service. This is because the complaint does not meet the tests in our Assessment Code on how we decide which complaints to investigate. The Council has already provided an appropriate response to address the complaint.
- The complainant, whom I refer to as Mr X, says the Council’s response to his pre‑application advice request was inadequate and did not meet the recommended standards. He says it took two weeks to pay the fee for the service, the planning officers did not respond to his communications, and they did not speak or meet with him to discuss the proposal.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- The Ombudsman investigates complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’, which we call ‘fault’. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint, which we call ‘injustice’. We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We do not start an investigation if we decide:
- there is not enough evidence of fault to justify investigating, or
- the Council has already taken appropriate action in response to the complaint.
(Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6) & 24A(7))
How I considered this complaint
- I considered information provided by Mr X and the Council, including the pre‑application advice and their complaint correspondence.
- I also considered our Assessment Code, information on the Council’s website about its pre-application advice service, and the planning guidance referred to by Mr X.
- Mr X has highlighted guidance in the National Planning Policy Framework and on the Planning Portal website about the provision of pre-application advice by planning authorities. However, this guidance does not impose statutory obligations on the level/type of service that must be provided. It is ultimately for the planning authority to decide whether to offer such a service and how it will operate within the context of limited resources.
- For the type of development Mr X was proposing, the Council’s standard approach is to provide written advice only. There is an additional fee if a meeting is requested.
- I understand Mr X submitted his pre-application advice request on 21 July and the Council provided its written response in early-September. It has apologised for the difficulties Mr X initially experienced when attempting to pay the fee, and for the time it took to respond to his request. I am satisfied the Council’s apology was an appropriate way to address any inconvenience caused.
- There was no requirement for the Council to meet Mr X or to discuss the proposal on the phone, and it provided comprehensive written advice in accordance with its pre-application advice scheme. There is not enough evidence of fault to justify pursuing this part of the complaint further.
- We will not investigate Mr X’s complaint because we are satisfied with the actions the Council has already taken in response to it.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman