The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr C complains the Council wrongly approved an outline planning application for residential housing before the outcome of an appeal on a separate application which was essentially the same scheme. Mr C says he will suffer from the wider landscape impact and the development will devalue his property and he has wasted time and money in making representations for the appeal. The Ombudsman has found no fault by the Council.
- The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Mr C, complains the Council wrongly approved an outline planning application for residential housing before the outcome of an appeal on a separate application which was essentially the same scheme. Mr C also says the Council attached a misleading condition about landscaping.
- Mr C says because of the Council’s fault he will suffer from the wider landscape impact including the destruction of medieval ridge and furrow and the effect on near and far views from the footpaths he walks regularly. Mr C also says the development will devalue his property and he has wasted time and money in making representations for the appeal.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- 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)
- 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)
- 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)
How I considered this complaint
- I read the papers provided by Mr C and discussed the complaint with him. I have considered some information from the Council and provided a copy of this to Mr C. I have explained my draft decision to Mr C and the Council and considered the comments received before reaching my final decision.
What I found
- The general power to control development and use of land is set out in the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. Permission is required for any development or change of use of land and may be granted by a Local Planning Authority or deemed to be permitted if it falls within the limits set out in Permitted Development regulations.
- Planning permission may be granted subject to conditions relating to the development and use of land and/or a legal agreement to make otherwise unacceptable proposals acceptable in planning terms.
- Outline applications are used to establish the principle of a proposal, leaving the ‘reserved matters’ to be considered at a later stage. Applications may be made with some or all matters reserved until later.
- All decisions on planning applications must be made in accordance with the development plan, unless material considerations indicate otherwise. The National Planning Policy Framework does not change the statutory status of the development plan as the starting point for decision making. It constitutes guidance in drawing up plans, and is a material consideration in determining applications.
- Where the development plan is silent or the relevant policies are out of date, planning applications must be determined in accordance with a ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ unless any adverse impacts would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits when assessed against the National Planning Policy Framework, or the Framework indicates development should be restricted.
- Material considerations relate to the use and development of land in the public interest, and not to private considerations such as the applicant’s personal conduct, covenants or reduction in the value of a property. Material considerations include issues such as overlooking, traffic generation and noise.
- Local opposition or support for a proposal is not in itself a ground for refusing or granting planning permission, unless is it founded upon valid material planning reasons.
- General planning policies may pull in different directions for example in promoting residential development and protecting residential amenities.
- It is for the decision maker to decide the weight to be given to any material consideration in determining a planning application.
- Most planning applications should be determined within eight weeks, although the time limit is 13 weeks for major applications. If the planning application has not been determined by the end of this period, and an extension has not been agreed in writing, the applicant can appeal to the Planning Inspectorate (on behalf of the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government).
- The Council received an outline planning application for residential housing in September 2016. The applicant appealed the Council’s non-determination of the application to the Planning Inspectorate.
- The Council received a second application for the same scheme in April 2017 with some revised supporting information including a new Landscape and Visual Impact Appraisal and archaeological information. The Council approved the application in July subject to conditions and a section 106 agreement being concluded. The Council issued the decision notice granting planning permission in October.
- The Planning Inspectorate dismissed the appeal for the original application in November 2017.
- There was no requirement for the Council to await the outcome of the appeal to the Planning Inspectorate for the original application before deciding the second application. It was not fault for the Council to do so.
- The Planning Inspector noted the Council had granted planning permission for an identical application but concluded there would be “significant harm to the local landscape arising from the proposed development.” The Planning Inspector accepted the additional housing and amount of affordable housing represented a “substantial and significant social benefit” which would generate economic benefits to the local economy and environmental benefits through ecological improvements to the site but his view was that those benefits did not overcome the significant harm to local landscape.
- The case officer’s report to the Council’s Planning Committee for the second application addresses the material planning considerations, policies and representations. The case officer concludes “In landscape and visual terms therefore the proposals are broadly acceptable subject to suitable and robust landscape mitigation and offset by improvements to biodiversity.” The report leads to a reasoned conclusion the proposals were acceptable subject to conditions. The Planning Committee accepted the recommendation and granted approval.
- Mr C refers to ambiguity in the wording of a condition in relation to the site plan. He suggests that as scale and landscaping are reserved matters the site plan being used as the approved plan may hinder proper consideration of reserved matters. I do not see that this can reasonably be said to have affected the outcome of the application and concerns about a future application for approval of reserved matters are speculative at this stage.
- It is clear the two decision makers reached a different view when weighing the material planning considerations in terms of the planning balance. This is not, in itself, evidence of fault. I am satisfied the Council’s Planning Committee had enough relevant information to reach a sound decision and properly considered the material planning considerations when doing so. I have seen no evidence of fault in the way the Council reached its decision to grant planning permission for the development.
- I have completed my investigation as I have found no evidence of fault by the Council.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman