Council criticised over handling of amendments to planning application

There were flaws in Christchurch Borough Council’s handling of amendments to a planning application for a housing development.

There were flaws in Christchurch Borough Council’s handling of amendments to a planning application for a housing development, finds Local Government Ombudsman, Jane Martin. In her report, issued today (2 December 2010) she says: “I welcome the Council’s co-operation… I have decided to complete my investigation of these complaints and issue this report because I consider there are issues of public interest arising from my investigation.”

‘Mrs Evans’ and her son, ‘Mr Harris’ (not their real names for legal reasons) complained about the Council’s handling of proposed amendments to a planning application for a housing development adjacent to Mrs Evans’ home, which is in a conservation area. Mr Harris is a trustee of the property.

The Council treated the proposed amendments as minor and did not notify Mrs Evans or her son about them, thereby denying them the opportunity to comment. The Council kept no proper record of its consideration of the proposed amendments and how it reached the conclusion that they should be treated as minor. This lack of evidence undermined the complainants’ confidence as to whether the amendments were properly considered and caused them justifiable outrage.

However, the Ombudsman said: “It would have been a more transparent process if the complainants had been notified of the proposed changes and this may well have given them greater confidence in the decision making process and the Council’s decision to approve the changes… Ultimately, it was a matter for [a council officer]’s professional judgement as to whether the proposed amendments were minor and therefore required no notification and, although it seems to me that this was a marginal decision, it was not utterly unreasonable. Although some of the amendments will increase overlooking towards the complainants’ property, other amendments will reduce it.”

The Council failed to notice the omission of obscure-glazed screens to the balconies on the final set of approved drawings. This led to uncertainty as the Council only had the developer's agreement to install the screens to rely on.

The Ombudsman finds maladministration and, to remedy the injustice caused, the Council has agreed to pay £500 each to Mrs Evans and Mr Harris. In addition, it has introduced improvements to its record-keeping procedures, and has secured the installation of obscure-glazed screens at the end of the first and second floor terraces of the new development.

Report ref 08 019 936 and 1 other.

Article date: 02 December 2010