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Portsmouth City Council (20 008 904)

Category : Planning > Planning applications

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 14 Jun 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: There was no fault by the Council in a complaint that alleged it did not deal fairly with a planning application.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Ms X, complains on behalf of another person, whom I shall refer to as Ms Y.
  2. Ms X says the Council did not deal fairly with a planning application. She says:
    • The application was prejudged because some committee members were given private advice by planning officers.
    • Residents’ objections were not presented at the committee meeting.
    • The committee was prejudiced because the site belongs to the Council.
    • The chairman expressed approval before the vote.
    • A ward councillor said there were no deputations from residents.
    • The Council ignored a petition and other objections.
    • There was no input from a conservation officer.
    • The application did not meet the Council’s own criteria for parking provision.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. 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)
  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 considered the complaint and background information provided by Ms X and the Council. I sent my initial thoughts on the complaint to Ms X and the Council and considered the comments of both parties on it.

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What I found

  1. The Council proposed to convert a former brewery it owns into residential dwelling comprised of 17 dwellings. The application was referred to the planning committee for a decision.
  2. Ms Y objected to the application. The planning officers’ report to the committee noted the Council had received four letters objecting to the application as well as a petition. The report summarised the objections as follows:
    • Design of the roof out of keeping with the character of the building, it is ugly, heavy and clumsy.
    • Loss of privacy in breach of article 8 of the Human Rights Act.
    • Loss of outlook.
    • Overshadowing.
    • Impact on the quiet character of the area.
    • Impact on the health and wellbeing of local residents.
    • Parking.
    • Access and disruption during construction works.
    • Impact on property value.
  3. The report noted the Council had received a deputation request but the details of the party’s requests were unavailable. This note referred to a deputation request from Ms Y. Due to the pandemic, planning committee meetings were held virtually and so the Council had new procedures in place to accommodate virtual meetings. If a third party wished to address the planning committee they were required to make a written deputation to the committee at least 7 working days before the committee meeting. The deputations would then be circulated to committee members before the meeting and possibly read out at the meeting itself.
  4. Ms X asked for a deputation to be read out at the committee meeting. This was on her own behalf and not on behalf of Ms Y. Ms Y did not submit a written deputation. Ms X says this is because she was misled by the wording of a letter from the Council. No other written deputation was read out at the meeting.
  5. The committee report set out national and local plan policies that applied to the application. It stated the key issues for consideration involved the principle of development; design and impact on heritage assets; standard of accommodation and impact on residential amenity; affordable housing; highways and parking; flood risk and drainage; sustainable design and construction; and ecology and impact on the Solent Special Protection Areas.
  6. I will focus here in this statement on the areas that affect Ms Y rather than all these matters.
  7. In terms of design and impact on heritage assets, the application had been referred to the Council’s design review panel for comment. The panel’s comments on the design were incorporated into the committee report. The report then included a detailed analysis of the proposal’s design and its impact on the conservation area.
  8. The building was stated to be a heritage asset and the report noted the applicant had submitted a heritage statement which assessed the application’s impact on the conservation area. However, as the Council did not employ a conservative officer at the time there were no comments from a specialist.
  9. In terms of the impact on residential amenity, the report noted there would be some bedroom windows in the elevation facing Ms Y’s home. However, the views towards Ms Y’s home would be across a public highway and then communal garden spaces. Planning officers did not consider there would be significant overlooking or impact on privacy as a result.
  10. The report noted the proposed additional storey on the building would raise its height by approximately 11.7 metres on the north and south elevations but it would vary in height in the west elevation. Officers said the separation distance of around 7 metres to Ms Y’s building meant the proposal would not result in significant overshadowing or loss of light.
  11. In terms of parking, the report noted the Council’s parking standards SPD set out the expected level of parking provision that should be included within new residential developments. The proposal would normally be expected to provide 23.5 parking spaces but no parking was proposed as part of the development. The report included the comments of the highways authority which criticised the lack of parking provision within the proposal as well as the results of a parking survey submitted with the application.
  12. Planning officers, however, noted that the local plan did not preclude approval of all proposals that did not meet the parking requirement. The report provided planning officers’ reasons why the benefits of the proposal outweighed the stated impact on local parking pressure that might arise from the development.

Finding

The application was prejudged because some committee members were given private advice by planning officers

  1. Committee members are entitled to seek advice from planning officers at committee meetings. They can question officers or seek information from the applicant or others present at the meeting. As the meeting itself was a virtual meeting and so neither Ms Y or Ms X were physically present I am not certain what Ms X means by private advice.
  2. I do not find fault by the Council here.

Residents’ objections were not presented at the committee meeting

  1. Objections received by local planning authorities are not usually presented at committee meetings. Normally, objections are summarised in committee reports and the original papers are made available to the committee.
  2. In this case, Ms X’s own written deputation was read out at the meeting. There was no requirement for the Council to present all objections it received.

The committee was prejudiced because the site belongs to the Council

  1. I note this is the view held by Ms X and Ms Y. However, I have seen no evidence the committee was prejudiced.

The chairman expressed approval before the vote

  1. Members of the committee can state their views on planning proposals at meetings as long as the committee then proceeds to consider the merits of the proposal before them.
  2. We cannot now look behind the minds of the planning committee to know what each member thought before or after the comments of the chairman. From the available evidence, I am satisfied the committee meeting proceeded in accordance with the Council’s procedure.

A ward councillor said there were no deputations from residents

  1. The councillor was wrong to say there were no deputations from residents. But that does not mean there was fault by the Council. The papers clearly show there were deputations including the committee report.

The Council ignored a petition and other objections

  1. I am satisfied the Council noted the petition and objections it received in the committee report. The original documents were also included in the planning file which was available to the planning committee.

There was no input from a conservation officer

  1. I have not seen comments from a conservation officer on the application in the application documents available on the Council’s website. It may be that this was an oversight and the comments of the officer were not sought by planning officers. Or it may be that planning officers were satisfied that the heritage report submitted by the applicant and the comments of the design review panel were sufficient such that a referral to a conservation officer was unnecessary.
  2. However, I do not find fault by the Council because it was still for planning officers to consider the proposal’s impact on heritage in planning terms whether there were comments from a conservation officer or not. There is a detailed analysis of the heritage impact of the proposal in the committee report and so I am satisfied the Council considered the matter properly and in light of the NPPF.

The application did not meet the Council’s own criteria for parking provision

  1. A local planning authority must determine a planning application in accordance with its local plan provisions unless material considerations indicate otherwise.
  2. Here, the Council was clear that the proposal did not meet its local plan parking criteria. However, it considered there were other material considerations that outweighed the parking requirement. That is not fault.

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Final decision

  1. I closed this complaint because I did not find fault by the Council.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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