The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: There was no fault in the way the Council considered Miss C’s neighbour’s planning application to extend his home. The Ombudsman cannot therefore question its decision to grant planning permission. There was also no fault in the Council’s decision to invite a new planning application to regularise a breach of planning control. This will be considered through the usual planning process.
- Miss C complains that, in granting planning permission to her neighbour to build a large extension to his property, the Council did not take her objections into account or properly consider the impact on her amenity. She complains that the extension has not been built in accordance with the plans. She also complains that her security has been compromised by the removal of garden fences during construction.
What I have investigated
- I have investigated the way the Council granted planning permission to construct an extension to Miss C’s neighbour’s house, and invited her neighbour to submit a new application to regularise the breach of planning control. For the reasons set out below, I have not investigated other aspects of Miss C’s complaint.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- 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)
How I considered this complaint
- I have considered Miss C’s written complaint and spoken with her and her partner. I have considered the complaint correspondence, the planning papers, and the relevant planning policies. I have also sent Miss C and the Council a draft decision and invited their comments.
What I found
- Miss C is a long-standing Council tenant. Her back garden backs onto the side of a neighbour’s back garden. Her neighbour’s house was the subject of a planning application to build a two storey side extension, a part one and part two storey rear extension, and a single storey front extension.
- The Council consulted Miss C and other neighbours. Miss C called the case officer to explain her concerns about the impact on her amenity. Her objections were set out in a note on the planning case file on the Council’s website.
- The case officer undertook a site visit and took photographs. He prepared a “Delegation Report”. This described the proposals and site history. It set out objectors’ concerns, including those of Miss C. It set out the relevant planning policies and discussed the impact on the existing dwellings, the character of the area and amenity space. As regards overdevelopment, the report considered whether the size of the proposed extension was acceptable in relation to the existing building and the plot size.
- The report also discussed the impact on neighbours’ amenities. It referred specifically to Miss C’s house, and considered noise, loss of light and overshadowing, loss of outlook and loss of privacy / overlooking. On the latter the report stated:
“there are no windows proposed to the flank of the extension at first floor level and so no overlooking opportunities are created by the proposal. The views from the rear windows would not be significantly different from those which already exist, and would actually reduce acute views into some of these properties.”
- The report concluded that “the proposal would not infringe on neighbouring amenity in a significantly adverse way”. It also concluded that the proposals were in line with local and national planning policies and recommended approving the application. The Council approved the application under delegated authority.
- Miss C complained in writing to the Council as she felt that it had not considered the impact on her amenity. The Council responded through both stages of its complaints process. It did not uphold her complaint because it considered that it had taken into account Miss C’s concerns when granting planning permission.
Granting of planning permission
- Miss C considers that the Council failed to take her objections into consideration.
- I do not consider that to be the case. Miss C’s objections were set out in a note published on the Council’s website. They were then summarised in the report. The report then discussed the material planning considerations that Miss C and other objectors raised.
- Miss C considers that the Council’s decision was one-sided in favour of the applicant.
- General planning policies may pull in different directions (e.g. in promoting residential development and protecting residential amenities). In this case, the Council considered the impact on neighbouring amenity to be acceptable.
- I appreciate that Miss C disagrees with that judgement, but it is for the Council to decide the weight to give to any material consideration in deciding a planning application. As the Council has taken relevant considerations into account, and its decision was properly reached, I cannot question its decision to approve the application.
Breach of planning control
- Miss C has complained that the applicant has built a larger extension than what was approved.
- That is correct. Where there is a breach of planning control, councils can take enforcement action. But councils do not have to take enforcement action just because there has been a breach of planning control. Councils may decide to take formal enforcement action, to invite a planning application to regularise what has been built or take no action.
- Government guidance says:
“Effective enforcement is important as a means of maintaining public confidence in the planning system. Enforcement action is discretionary, and local planning authorities should act proportionately in responding to suspected breaches of planning control.” (National Planning Policy Framework 2012, paragraph 207)
- In this case the Council has asked the applicant to submit a new application to regularise what has been built. Miss C has objected to that application. The Council will then consider whether what has been built is acceptable.
- The Council is entitled to follow this approach if it considers it expedient to do so. There is no fault here.
- Once the Council has reached a decision on the new application, Miss C can make a fresh complaint to the Council if she is unhappy with that decision.
- I have found no fault in the Council’s handling of the planning application by Miss C’s neighbour to extend his home. I cannot therefore question the Council’s decision to approve the application.
- Miss C has complained that, during construction, her neighbour removed fences and this compromised her security.
- I have not investigated this matter because the undertaking of works close to boundary walls is a private legal matter which is governed by the Party Wall etc. Act 1996.
- Also, if Miss C considers that the Council should replace the fence under the tenancy agreement, the Ombudsman has no powers to consider this matter as complaints about social housing tenancies are matters for the Housing Ombudsman.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman