Northumberland County Council (18 016 358)

Category : Planning > Planning applications

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 21 Jun 2019

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr X represents a sports club that applied for a grant from the Council. Mr X complains about the Council’s decision not to grant his application. There was no fault in the way the Council made its decision.

The complaint

  1. Mr X represents a sports club. Mr X complains the Council decided not to award the club a grant.
  2. Mr X said the Council had made an earlier award, but because of the Council’s decisions, the club could not finish the significant improvement works it had started.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. 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)
  2. 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 read the complaint and discussed it with Mr X. I read the Council’s response to the complaint and considered documents from its planning files, including the plans and the case officer’s report.
  2. I gave the Council and Mr X an opportunity to comment a draft of this decision but received no responses.

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What I found

Planning law and guidance

  1. Councils should approve planning applications that accord with policies on the local development plan, unless other material planning considerations indicate they should not.
  2. Councils may impose planning conditions to make development acceptable in planning terms. Conditions should be necessary, enforceable and reasonable in all other regards.
  3. Councils may approve applications, subject to a requirement to enter into a legal agreement under section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. Section 106 agreements are legally binding deeds, and can be used to require the developer to make financial contributions for public use and benefit.

What happened

  1. Mr X says in 2017 the club applied to the Council for a grant to make infrastructure improvements. A committee of members considered the application and a grant was made from the section 106 fund.
  2. In 2018 the club submitted another application for the second phase of works to the club. This application was considered by the same committee in June 2018. At first it seemed this application would also be approved, but a query was raised on whether the club qualified for a payment. This was because the money in the fund had come from a section 106 agreement which required it to be spent on sports facilities near the approved development. Mr X’s club was not in this area.
  3. The committee decided to defer its decision until it had legal advice on the matter.
  4. In December 2018, the committee of members met and considered the advice of the Council’s lawyers. It decided not to make the award to Mr X’s club because it was outside the area described in the section 106 agreement.

My findings

  1. We are not an appeal body. Our role is to review the process by which decisions are made. Where we find fault in the decision-making process, we decide whether it caused an injustice to the complainant. To do this, we need evidence to show that, but for the fault, the outcome would have been different.
  2. The evidence shows the Council considered Mr X’s application, the section 106 agreement and its contents. The Council has followed the process we would expect and so there was no fault in the way it made its decision.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation, as there was no fault in the way the Council made its decision.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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