The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr X says the Council is at fault in how it decided a planning application for a site near his home. The Ombudsman has found some evidence of fault however he does not consider this altered the outcome of the application. For this reason, he has ended his consideration of this complaint.
- Mr X says the Council is at fault in its handling of a planning application for a development near his home. He says the Council:
- did not consider the impact of the proposal on the amenity of neighbouring properties;
- did not upload amended plans to its website until shortly before the Planning Committee at which the application was determined;
- invited all objectors to speak at the Planning Committee meeting in error
Mr X also says Councillors acted inappropriately at the meeting. For these reasons Mr X says the Council’s determination was flawed.
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
- As part of my investigation I discussed the complaint with Mr X and considered information he provided. I considered the planning documents for applications for the site and the Council’s replies to complaints about its handling of this application. I set out my initial thoughts on the complaint in a draft decision statement and I considered Mr X’s comments in response.
What I found
- In 2017 the Council received a planning application for development at a property (hereafter referred to as the application site) in Mr X’s road. The application sought permission to build a new dwelling in the rear garden of the existing dwelling (hereafter referred to as the host dwelling).
- The Council considered the application and set out its views in its case officer report. In summary, this said:
- the proposal would significantly reduce the amount of amenity space afforded to the host dwelling with this decreasing from 400m² to 118m², with the majority of this located to the front and side of the dwelling;
- the orientation of the proposed dwelling would have a significant effect on the light to gardens of the properties nearest the site;
- the rear wall of the proposed dwelling has no windows. While this mitigates the potential for overlooking into neighbouring gardens, the rear brick wall would negatively affect the outlook from neighbouring properties;
- rear facing roof lights would overlook neighbouring gardens;
- the proposal would look out of character with the established street scene;
- the proposed parking arrangements were not considered suitable for a residential property; and
- the proposal would be close to commercial properties and would present a conflict between the uses.
- For the above reasons, the application was refused. The decision was made using delegated authority.
- In 2018 the Council received another application for the site which also sought permission for a dwelling to be built in the garden of the host dwelling.
- Mr X and other local residents objected to the application on the grounds the proposal would:
- have an unacceptable impact on the amenity of their homes including overshadowing and loss of light;
- look out of place and be detrimental to the street scene;
- constitute overdevelopment and be overbearing;
- create parking and traffic issues;
- not address any identified housing need; and
- would be better built next to the host dwelling.
- The case officer set out their views on the application in a report which, in summary, said:
- the new application provided more amenity space for the host dwelling and was sufficient for the occupants;
- the proposed dwelling would have a garden of suitable size;
- while the proposed dwelling’s orientation and height had not altered, it was considered that any overshadowing would be acceptable;
- the new application moved the proposed dwelling back and would have a hipped roof angled away from the neighbouring property and so would not have an overbeating impact on the neighbouring property;
- the rear wall of the proposed dwelling would be rendered which would break up the appearance of brick wall from neighbouring properties.
- the new application had only one roof light and this would be obscure glazed. This resolved earlier concerns about overlooking;
- the property would have an appearance similar to those in the road of the host dwelling and would be in keeping with the street scene;
- the proximity to commercial buildings was no longer thought to be grounds to refuse the application. This is because they are only used during working hours and not for industrial uses. The proposed dwelling would have sound proofing; and
- there were no concerns about the impact of the proposal on traffic, road safety or parking in the local area.
For these reasons, the case officer recommended the proposal be approved.
- Owing to the level of opposition to the application and the officer’s recommendation that permission be granted, the application was referred to the Planning Committee for determination.
- The Council wrote to residents who had objected inviting them to speak at the committee meeting.
- Amended plans were submitted by the applicant ahead of the committee meeting but after the consultation period had ended. The plans were revised elevation drawings and did not make any changes that were material to the determination of the application. The plans were available to committee members prior to the meeting.
- At the meeting, residents were told that there had been an error and it would not be possible for them all to address the committee. After discussion, two objectors and the applicant addressed the committee.
- Mr X says two councillors were laughing and joking during the meeting. He says this was disrespectful to those objecting. He also says one of the councillors presented the amended plans using an overhead projector and showed the committee members the areas that had been amended. Mr X says this was like a sales presentation.
- Reference was also made during the meeting to a garage owned by a neighbour that would need to be demolished for the proposal to be built. I understand this was an error and the matter was clarified to members before a decision was made.
- The planning committee granted planning permission subject to conditions.
- Mr X and other residents were unhappy and complained to their local councillor, MP and local paper. They also complained to the Council. In its reply it apologised for advising that all objectors could address the committee and said it had arranged training for councillors on the planning committee.
- Mr X remains dissatisfied.
The Council did not consider the impact of the proposal on the amenity of neighbour properties
- I do not agree that the Council did not consider the impact of the proposal on the amenity on neighbouring properties. The case officer report explained how changes had addressed concerns raised during the consideration of the earlier application.
- I note the amendments to the plans made before the committee meeting did not include any changes that would have given rise to additional objections from local residents. Their concerns regarding the impact of the proposal on their amenity remained unaltered.
- As I have not found any evidence of fault in how the Council considered this matter there are no grounds on which I can question the merits of its decision.
- Any confusion about the need to demolish the neighbouring garage was clarified before the decision was made and so I do not consider this matter altered the outcome of the application.
The Council did not upload amended plans to its website until shortly before the Planning Committee at which the application was determined
- I do not consider this matter altered the outcome of the application. Members were made aware of the changes before deciding the application. Furthermore, as set out above, the changes did not alter the nature of the objections made by residents.
The Council invited all objectors to speak at the Planning Committee meeting in error
- It is accepted the Council mistakenly invited all residents who had objected to the proposal to speak at the committee meeting. While this raised residents’ expectations, I do not consider it caused any greater injustice. This is because the Council normally only allows one objector to address the Planning Committee, not two as in this case.
- The Council has apologised to residents for its error and I consider this adequately addresses any injustice caused to them.
Conduct of councillors at the committee meeting
- A councillor explaining the changes to the Committee is not a cause for concern. The purpose of the meeting is for councillors to discuss the applications and clarification of changes to the plans is a legitimate part of that process.
- I also note comments from Mr X that councillors were laughing and joking during the meeting and I am aware the Council has arranged training for committee members. This shows the Council accepts Mr X’s concerns are valid and has taken appropriate action.
- I have ended my investigation as I did not find any evidence of fault which altered the outcome of the planning application.
Investigator’s final decision on behalf of the Ombudsman
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman