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South Lakeland District Council (16 012 906)

Category : Planning > Planning applications

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 31 Mar 2017

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mrs X complains about the Council’s decision to approve a planning application without consulting her. There was fault in the way the Council made its decision, but this caused no injustice to Mrs X.

The complaint

  1. Mrs X complains the Council failed to notify her about her neighbour’s planning application. Mrs X says the new house that was approved near her rear boundary will affect her privacy.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We cannot investigate late complaints unless we decide there are good reasons. Late complaints are when someone takes more than 12 months to complain us about something a council has done. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26B and 34D, as amended)
  2. 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’. If there has been fault which has caused an injustice, we may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1), as amended)
  3. If we are satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, we can complete our investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have read the complaint and discussed it with Mrs X. I have read the Council’s response to the complaint and documents from its planning files, including the plans and Case Officer’s reports for two planning applications.
  2. I gave Mrs X and the Council an opportunity to comment on a draft of this decision.

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What I found

  1. Councils should approve planning applications that accord with policies on the local plan, unless other material planning considerations indicate otherwise.
  2. Planning considerations include things like:
    • the impact on neighbouring amenities, such as privacy, light and outlook;
    • the plans, design and materials of the proposal;
    • the design context and character of the area;
    • the planning history of the site, including earlier planning application and enforcement decisions and appeals; and
    • the comments and views on the proposal as they relate to planning considerations from consultees, including neighbours.
  3. There are generally recognised separation distances that planners consider when looking at relationships between dwellings. Planners will usually expect at least 21 metres between directly facing habitable room windows, and 11 metres between a habitable room window and a blank elevation or elevation with non‑habitable room windows/obscure glazed windows. It may be possible for these distances to be reduced if the windows are at offset angles or boundary treatments, such as fences, trees or bushes, obscure the view.

What happened

  1. In 2013 the Council approved a planning application for a house on the land behind Mrs X’s home. This decision approved the principal of development on the site.
  2. In 2014 the developer submitted some revised plans to change some minor details, including roof tiles, the orientation of steps to the garden, boundary treatment and window glazing. The Council should have consulted Mrs X as her property shares a boundary, but did not.
  3. Mrs X says she would have raised concerns about her privacy, the failure of plans to show her outbuildings, and the plans implied that her garden was a field. The Council accepts this was fault, but says Mrs X’s objections would not have affected its decision. The Council says the principle of development of a very similar proposal was already confirmed by an earlier approval and the differences between this and the later application would not justify a refusal.
  4. Mrs X has a separation distance of about 40 metres between her home and the new dwelling. The elevation has either non-habitable room windows or obscure glazed windows facing towards her. The steps are in an elevated position, but should be hidden to some extent by planting on the boundary.
  5. The Case Officer’s report covers the relevant material considerations, including how the development will impact upon neighbours.

My findings

  1. The Council was at fault, as it should have consulted Mrs X before making its planning decision on the 2014 application. The original (2013) application was approved more than 12 months before Mrs X complained to us. The decision on this application is not the subject of this complaint and I see no reason to investigate it now. I will focus on the process leading to the 2014 application.
  2. Before we criticise councils, we need to demonstrate the fault caused a significant injustice. In the context of a planning decision, we need to show the outcome would have been different if the fault had not occurred.
  3. I cannot say the outcome would have been different. The 2014 planning decision did not establish the principle of development: this had already been decided. The 2014 application was for relatively minor matters and although Mrs X did not get the opportunity to comment, the Case Officer’s report shows the Council did take account of her amenity.
  4. Also, the distances between Mrs X’ home and the new development here are significant in planning terms – over three times the minimum separation distance that we might expect. In these circumstances, I cannot say the development significantly affects Mrs X or that the Council would have made a different planning decision.

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Final decision

  1. There was fault in the way the Council made its decision, but this did not cause a significant injustice. I have completed my investigation.

Investigator’s decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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