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London Borough of Ealing (17 006 639)

Category : Planning > Planning applications

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 29 Mar 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mrs X says the Council is at fault in its handling of a planning application for a property neighbouring her home and of her subsequent reports of breaches of planning control at the site. The Ombudsman has found no evidence of fault by the Council in either matter and therefore he has ended his investigation of this complaint.

The complaint

  1. Mrs X says the Council is at fault in its handling of planning matters for a neighbouring property. She says the Council did not:
  • consider her objections to a planning application submitted by her neighbours;
  • have regard to its planning policies (specifically Section 7.4 of its Supplementary Planning Document 4) and the topography of the site when determining the application; and
  • properly investigate her reports of planning breaches at the site.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. 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)
  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. 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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. As part of my investigation I discussed the complaint with Mrs X and considered information she provided. I made enquiries of the Council and I considered its response and documents its provided. I set out my initial view on the complaint in a draft decision statement and I considered Mrs X’s comments in response.

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What I found

  1. This document sets out how the Council will consider planning applications for residential extensions. The guidance says “in Conservation Areas extensions should not extend across the full width of the original dwelling, obscuring the original design. Extensions that wrap around the side and rear are discouraged and will usually be refused in Conservation Areas.”

Key events

  1. Mrs X lives in a semi-detached house located in a Conservation Area. Owing to the topography of the site, Mrs X’s home is not as high as the neighbouring property.
  2. In 2015 Mrs X’s neighbours submitted a planning application for a single storey rear extension and part single storey side extension. The application was approved subject to conditions.
  3. In May 2016 Mrs X’s neighbours submitted a new planning application for a single storey side extension along the eastern boundary of the property and a single storey rear extension along the entire width of the property.
  4. In June the Council placed a Site Notice notifying residents of the application.
  5. Mrs X wrote a letter of objection dated the 21 June which she sent recorded delivery and also hand-delivered to the Council for which she received a receipt.
  6. In her letter of objection Mrs X raised the following matters:
  • the proposal was unacceptable in terms of its size, scale, bulk and design;
  • it would have an overbearing appearance and unacceptable loss of daylight and outlook to their kitchen and conservatory; and
  • it would result in a loss of period character.

The letter also referred to comments made by a planning consultant, Mr Y, in respect of the earlier application made by Mrs X’s neighbours. A copy of the letter was enclosed with Mrs X’s objection.

  1. The case officer for the application set out her thoughts on the application in a report. The report set out the objections received to the application which included the matters raised by Mrs X in her letter and the enclosed letter from Mr Y. The report also contained a paragraph dealing solely with the impact of the proposal on the residential amenity of the area and Mrs X’s home.
  2. The Council granted planning permission subject to conditions.
  3. Unhappy with the decision, Mrs X queried matters with the Council and lengthy correspondence between her and the Council commenced. This included Mrs X being copied into an email of 22 August between the case officer and another council officer stating that nobody had seen Mrs X’s letter of 21 June.
  4. In May 2017 Mrs X reported a possible breach of planning control by her neighbours. The Council investigated and visited her neighbours’ property. Officers concluded that the extension had been built in accordance with the approved plans. It also found that no breach had occurred regarding a patio area with steps. It said a patio had been a historic feature of the property and featured in the block plan for the 2016 application. Therefore this did not represent a breach of planning control.
  5. As no breach was found, the Council closed the case.
  6. Mrs X remains unhappy with the Council’s decisions on both matters and following continued correspondence with the Council approached the Ombudsman.


  1. It is not for us to substitute our judgement for that of the Council’s officers. Instead we examine the process leading to the Council’s decisions for evidence of fault.
  2. Of paramount importance to Mrs X is her conviction that her objection letter of 21 June 2016 was not received by the Council. Her concerns about this matter stem from an email in which an officer stated that nobody had seen the letter. I have seen this email. I have also seen a copy Mrs X’s letter of 21 June provided to me by the Council. The letter has a date stamp of 22 June on it. I have also considered the case officer’s report for the application which summarises Mrs X’s grounds of objection as set out in her letter of 21 June. While I appreciate why the email of August has caused Mrs X concern, it is evident from the case officer’s report that her objections were known prior to the determination of the application and were taking into account as part of the decision making process. Therefore as the matters Mrs X wished to raise were considered I do not see that has been caused an injustice even if her letter was not received as she fears.
  3. Mrs X says the Council’s decision to approve the application is flawed because it was not in accordance with SPD4; this forms part of the Council’s planning policies and is therefore a material planning consideration. This means the Council should take it into account when deciding planning applications. However it should also be noted that the document is for guidance and, providing there are good reasons, proposals do not have to accord with it in order to be approved.
  4. The case officer’s report discussed the application in relation to SPD4. It explained that, while the side extension would be 3.55 metres high, a corresponding increase of 0.45 metres in the height of the garage meant the extension would not be visible from the street. Accordingly, it would not have a detrimental impact on the amenity of the area. The report also recognised that the depth of the extension is more than recommended in the guidance. However, the height of the extension would reduce its impact and therefore it was considered to have a suitable scale, form and bulk.
  5. I am satisfied the Council took into account SPD4 when determining the application and that its reasons for approving the application despite it departing from the guidance are clearly explained. As I have found no evidence of fault in how this matter was considered, there are no grounds on which I can question the merits of its decision.
  6. Mrs X also says the Council did not give due regard to the topography of the site when considering the impact of the proposal on the amenity of her home. I do not agree. Plans for the proposal show that the ground slopes downwards from Mrs X’s neighbours’ home towards hers. I am also aware the case officer had visited the site as part of her consideration of an earlier application. For these reasons I am satisfied the case officer would have been aware of the topography of the site. Moreover the case officer’s report considered the impact of the height of the proposed extension on the extension (used as a conservatory) at Mrs X’s home. It set out that the height of the proposed extension was 2.7 metres and slopes away from the boundary with Mrs X’s home. For this reason, the case officer concluded that the impact on daylight and sunlight to Mrs X’s home would not be so great as to warrant refusal of the application. I am satisfied the Council had regard to the impact of the proposal on the amenity of Mrs X’s home.
  7. Lastly Mrs X says the Council did not consider her reports of breaches of planning control at her neighbours’ home. I do not agree. The Council has provided me with copies of its site visit notes and photograph its officers took. I am therefore satisfied the Council investigated Mrs X’s reports.
  8. Mrs X is adamant the Council should take action regarding the patio area and steps at her neighbours’ home. In its note the Council explains the patio area is shown on the block plan for the application. It also says the patio and steps were a pre-existing feature of the property and so were immune from enforcement action. As the Council has not identified a breach, there are no grounds on which it can take enforcement action.

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Final decision

  1. I have ended my investigation of this complaint as I have found no evidence of fault by the Council.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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