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Cambridge City Council (21 008 219)

Category : Planning > Planning applications

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 09 Feb 2022

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr X’s agent complained the Council failed to refund his client’s planning application fee. We have ended our investigation because it is unlikely to result in a meaningful outcome.

The complaint

  1. Mr X’s agent complained the Council failed to refund his client’s planning application fee.
  2. The agent says this has had a significant financial impact on Mr X.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. The Ombudsman investigates complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’, which we call ‘fault’. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint, which we call ‘injustice’. We provide a free service but must use public money carefully. We do not start or may decide not to continue with an investigation if we decide:
  • further investigation would not lead to a different outcome, or
  • we cannot achieve the outcome someone wants, or
  • there is another body better placed to consider this complaint.

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

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I spoke to the agent and considered his view of his complaint.
  2. The agent and the Council had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision.

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What I found

The law

  1. The Town and Country Planning (Fees for Applications, Deemed Applications, Requests and Site Visits) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2013, section 9A states that planning application fees shall be refunded to the applicant if the local planning authority fails to determine the application within 26 weeks, unless (amongst other things) the applicant and the local planning authority have agreed an extension in writing.

What happened

  1. The agent submitted a major planning application to the Council on behalf of Mr X who paid the planning application fee.
  2. Around ten months after the Council had accepted the planning application, it asked the applicant for a short extension to consider additional documentation. In their response, the agent stated they agreed to “an extension of time to the 13 week planning application determination period, leaving the planning guarantee timeframe intact”.
  3. The agent later requested a refund of the fee on the basis the Council had taken longer than 26 weeks to determine the application and there was no written agreement to an extension. The Council argued the agent had agreed to an extension in its response above.
  4. The agent believes that their client is legally entitled to a refund and complained to the Ombudsman.

My findings

  1. The Council and the agent have different opinions on whether there was an agreement to allow an extension and whether there is a legal entitlement to a refund.
  2. We are not a court and so cannot determine which of the parties is correct in their interpretation of the facts and the law. Only the courts can do this.
  3. I have ended my investigation, as further investigation is unlikely to result in a meaningful outcome.

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Final decision

  1. I have ended my investigation on the basis that it is unlikely to result in a meaningful outcome.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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