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North Devon District Council (20 012 399)

Category : Planning > Planning applications

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 23 Apr 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: We will not investigate this complaint about how the Council dealt with a planning application. This is because we are unlikely to find fault and the complainant has not been caused significant injustice.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Mrs X, has complained about how the Council has dealt with her neighbour’s planning application. She says she was not properly notified about the application and lost the opportunity to object. Mrs X says the development will have a significant impact on her privacy.

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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’. We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We may decide not to start or continue with an investigation if we believe:
  • it is unlikely we would find fault, or
  • the injustice is not significant enough to justify our involvement.

(Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have considered Mrs X’s complaint and the Council’s responses. I invited Mrs X to comment on a draft of this decision and have considered her comments in response.

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What I found

  1. When a local authority receives a planning application it must look at the development plan and material planning considerations to decide if the proposal is acceptable. Material considerations relate to the use and development of the land in the public interest and includes matters such as the impact on neighbouring properties and the relevant planning policies. It is for the decision maker to decide the weight to be given to any material considerations in determining a planning application.
  2. Councils are required to give publicity to planning applications. The publicity required depends on the nature of the development. However, in all cases the application must be published on the Council’s website.
  3. In addition, the Council must;
  • erect a site notice and put a publication in a local newspaper if the proposal departs from the development plan or affects a public right of way;
  • erect a site notice or notify neighbours and place a publication in a local newspaper if the application is for a major development;
  • erect a site notice or notify neighbours if the development is minor.

What happened

  1. The Council received a planning application from Mrs X’s neighbour to extend and alter their property. The Council sent letters to the residents of the affected neighbouring properties and Mrs X contacted the Council to raise her concerns about the proposed development. However, after sending the notification letters the Council noticed information was missing from the application and therefore it could not be validated.
  2. Shortly after this, the applicant provided the required information. The Council validated the application and says it reconsulted the affected neighbours. Following the consultation period, the Council considered the application and granted planning permission.
  3. Mrs X contacted the Council to complain after works started to build the development. She said she did not receive the Council’s second consultation letter and did not know planning permission had been granted. Mrs X said the development will cause a loss of privacy and the new balcony will overlook her garden.

Assessment

  1. I will not investigate this complaint about how the Council dealt with a planning application. This is because I am unlikely to find fault and the complainant has not suffered significant injustice.
  2. Mrs X says the development will have a significant impact on her home. But I am satisfied the case officer properly considered the acceptability of the development, including the impact on neighbouring properties, before granting planning permission. The report addressed potential loss of privacy, but the case officer decided the proposal would not have an unacceptable impact. I understand Mrs X disagrees, but the case officer was entitled to use their professional judgement in this regard and the Ombudsman cannot question this unless it was tainted by fault. As the Council properly considered the application it is unlikely I could find fault in this regard.
  3. Mrs X has complained that she was not given the opportunity to comment on the proposal. Mrs X contacted the Council after receiving its first letter notifying her about the development. However, she says she was told the application could not be found, and she would be called back to discuss her concerns. Mrs X says she did not hear from the Council again and did not know planning permission had been granted until building work started. She also says the site notice was inappropriately located and therefore she did not see this.
  4. The Council says a planning officer did speak to Mrs X after she contacted it and explained the situation with the application. It also says it wrote to Mrs X again after the application was validated giving her the opportunity to comment.
  5. I cannot know why Mrs X did not receive the Council’s letter or if it did return her call. But even if it could be shown the letter was not sent or that the Council did not call Mrs X back, I cannot say this has caused any significant injustice. The Council did still properly consider the application before granting permission and it is likely the planning decision would have been the same had Mrs X had the opportunity to comment.

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Final decision

  1. I will not investigate this complaint. This is because I am unlikely to find fault and Mrs X has not been caused significant injustice.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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