The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Miss X complains the Council failed to consider her privacy when granting planning permission for a development to the rear of her property. There is no evidence of fault in how the Council considered a planning application for a development to the rear of Miss X’s property.
- Miss X complains that the Council failed to consider the impact on her privacy when granting planning permission for a development to the rear of her property. Miss X considers the development has an unacceptable impact on her privacy as her bathroom is now overlooked.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- 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)
- 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 have:
- Considered the complaint and the information provided by Miss X;
- Discussed the issues with Miss X;
- Made enquiries of the Council and considered the information provided;
- Invited Miss X and the Council to comment on the draft decision.
What I found
Law and administration
- A council must decide on a planning application in line with the local development plan, unless there are material considerations that suggest otherwise. Material considerations include the impact on amenities, such as loss of privacy.
- Paragraph 55 of the National Planning Policy Framework provides that planning conditions should be kept to a minimum and only used where they satisfy six tests. The tests include whether the planning condition is necessary and enforceable.
- When considering complaints about how a council has considered a planning application we look for evidence that a proper process was followed before a decision was made. We expect to see evidence that the Council has identified the material planning considerations, such as impact on neighbours’ amenity, raised by the application and that they have been properly considered. The weight the Council gives to them is a matter for its judgement. We will not come to our own view on the merits of the planning application.
- The Council considered a planning application for a number of properties to be build on land to the rear of Miss X’s property. Miss X objected to the planning application on the grounds it would have an unacceptable impact on her privacy.
- The Council has said the case officer carried out a site visit when determining the application. It does not have any notes of the site visit.
- The case officer set out their assessment of the application in a report. This assessment included the impact on Miss X’s street. The case officer considered the existing residents would be protected from overlooking by a planting area and due to the distance between the proposed development and the properties on Miss X’s street. The case officer noted proposed development would be between 25 and 45 metres from the properties in Miss X’s street. The nearest proposed dwelling would be approximately 25 metres from Miss X’s neighbour’s property. The case officer therefore considered the development would not have an adverse impact on existing residents in terms of overlooking or overshadowing. The Council granted planning permission for the development.
- Miss X complained to the Council as she considered the development affected her privacy as the builders could see into her bathroom which does not have obscure or privacy glazing. She considered the Council should insist the developer provides privacy glazing for her bathroom. The Council considered Miss X’s complaint through its two stage complaints procedure. The Council said
- it could not require the developer to install privacy glazing to Miss X’s property;
- as a general rule facing windows of habitable rooms such as living rooms and bedrooms should be 22 metres apart. The development was in excess of 25 metres from Miss X’s property.
- the separation distance between the development and Miss X’s property plus planting area meant there would be no undue overlooking of Miss X’s property. It was therefore unnecessary to impose conditions relating to privacy glazing.
- Miss X made a complaint to the Ombudsman as she considers the development significantly overlooks her bathroom.
- There is no evidence of fault in how the Council considered the planning application. The case officer’s report shows the Council identified the relevant material planning considerations including the impact on the properties on Miss X’s street. The report explained the Council considered the impact to be acceptable due to the separation distance between the development and the properties on the street. The report does not specifically refer to Miss X’s property. But it refers to the impact on Miss X’s neighbour’s property which the plans show is closer to the development than Miss X’s property. It therefore follows that the Council considers the impact on Miss X’s property to be acceptable due to the distance between her property and the development.
- I am also satisfied there is no evidence of fault in how the Council reached its decision not to impose conditions on the planning permission. The Council has explained it could not impose a planning condition for the developer to install privacy glazing in Miss X’s property. The property is not in the control of the developer so any such condition is unlikely to be unenforceable. The Council considered the impact of the development on the properties on Miss X’s street to be acceptable. So, it was unnecessary to impose a condition requiring privacy glazing in the windows facing towards Miss X’s bathroom. Any such conditions are unlikely to meet the tests set out in the National Planning Policy Framework for imposing conditions.
- I acknowledge Miss X strongly considers the development has an unacceptable impact on her privacy in her bathroom. But as there is no evidence of fault in how the Council considered the planning application, I do not have grounds to question its decision.
- I note the Council does not have a record of the case officer’s site visit. Councils are not obliged to carry out site visits. Butin the event councils carry out a site visit it is good practice to keep a record of the site visit, such as notes or photographs. This ensures councils have an audit trail of their consideration.
- There is no evidence of fault in how the Council considered a planning application for a development to the rear of Miss X’s property. I have therefore completed my investigation.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman