The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: There is evidence of fault in how the Council dealt with an application to extend the property behind Mrs X’s home.
- Mrs X has complained the Council granted planning permission to extend the property behind her home. She believes it has not properly considered the impact the proposal will have on her home.
- Mrs X is also unhappy as she believes the Council did not give her enough time to submit her objections and delayed in putting her comments on its website.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- The Ombudsman investigates complaints of injustice caused by maladministration and service failure. I have used the word fault to refer to these. The Ombudsman cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. She must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3))
How I considered this complaint
- I have considered all the information from Mrs X and the Council including the information about the application on the Council’s website.
- A copy of this decision was sent in draft to Mrs X and the Council. I have considered the comments received in response.
What I found
- The Council granted planning permission to extend the property located behind Mrs X’s home. The existing property had fallen into disrepair and the applicant proposed to add a new pitched roof to house three bedrooms and a bathroom.
- Mrs X objected to the application and raised concerns about the impact on her home and garden. She says the extension will significantly overlook her home causing a loss of privacy.
- The Tonbridge & Malling Borough Local Plan says residential extensions should not have an adverse impact on the amenity of neighbouring properties. Mrs X says the Council has not properly considered the impact on her property and did not visit the site before granting planning permission. She has argued that the new dormer windows will be higher and therefore her home will be more overlooked than it was before. The proposal also includes a Juliette balcony which will overlook her garden.
- The Council says the case officer did consider the impact on neighbouring amenity and addressed this in his report. The report says there will not be any more overlooking. It also acknowledges there are different levels at the site and that the proposal includes rear dormer windows. The Council says planning professionals understand when considering applications for rear dormer windows that these will be higher and therefore slightly increase the potential for overlooking. The Council also accepts there was no site visit, but says as the case officer has a good knowledge of the local area he could use his professional judgment to decide the application without one.
- There is no legal requirement for Councils to carry out site visits before deciding a planning application. But this approach is unusual and I find it difficult to see how the Council can show material considerations, such as neighbouring amenity, were adequately considered without one. The Council has now visited and viewed the impact from Mrs X’s home first hand. It found there is potential for further overlooking but decided this would not have been significant enough to refuse permission.
- However, the case officer’s report does not detail the potential for overlooking or properly explain the impact the elevated windows will have. The report also does not detail that the distance between Ms X’s home and the new extension is less than the separation distance noted in the Council’s Local Plan. The Council has said that the case officer did consider this and as the distance between the properties would not change it would not increase the overlooking. The Local Plan is a material planning consideration, but it need not be followed in each case. Nevertheless, if it is not followed there should be a clear reason and I consider it fault not to expressly detail this in the case officer’s report.
- Despite what the report says, it is clear that windows at a greater height could cause additional overlooking. However, the windows are not to a new separate dwelling and, in the circumstances, I am satisfied if the issue had been specifically addressed the outcome would not have been different.
- Mrs X has also complained about delays in the Council sending letters to the neighbouring properties to notify of the application and the limited time the Council gave her to raise any objections. On receiving an application the Council must ensure it is complete and then decide if permission should be given. In this case Mrs X’s neighbour submitted the application in November 2015 and the Council validated it on 4 December. The Council then had to decide the application within eight weeks. It is unfortunate that this fell over the Christmas period causing a slight delay. But I cannot say this is fault and the Council needed to give a deadline for any objections so it could ensure it decided the application in time.
Although I cannot conclude the planning decision would have been different, I consider Mrs X will have been caused uncertainty about the application and feel aggrieved that if the case officer’s report had better set out the situation there is a chance a different outcome would have been reached. Mrs X was put to time and trouble pursuing matters. The Council has agreed to pay her £150 to recognise this.
- There is evidence of fault in how the Council dealt with an application to extend the properly behind Mrs X’s home.
Investigator’s decision on behalf of the Ombudsman
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman