Conservation areas

This fact sheet is mainly for people who have concerns about the council approving a neighbour’s planning application in a conservation area and who may be considering making a complaint to the Ombudsman.

Planning permission has been granted for development which will spoil the special character or appearance of the conservation area in which we live. Can the Ombudsman help?

You can complain about the way in which the council considered planning permission: but you cannot appeal about the decision to us or any other body. 

Where development is proposed in a conservation area, the council must give special attention to whether, it believes the planned development would preserve or enhance the character or appearance of the conservation area. This does not mean an area must remain unchanged.

Within the conservation area there are special controls on demolishing buildings and on the removal or lopping of trees. Sometimes councils also restrict ‘permitted development rights’ which would otherwise allow some development to take place without planning permission.

If you are the planning applicant, you have the right to appeal to the Planning Inspectorate against an adverse decision. We would usually expect you to take this route, rather than making a complaint to us.

How do I complain?

If you want to object to a planning application, you need to write to the council as soon as possible explaining why you think it should not approve the application. We will not normally consider a complaint about a planning application until a council has decided it. This is because, even if a council has done something wrong, we will not know until it decides an application whether the fault will affect the result.

If you think the council has done something wrong in the way it dealt with the application, you should normally complain to the council first. Councils often have more than one stage in their complaints procedure and you will usually have to complete all stages before we will look at your complaint.

Then, if you are unhappy with the result, or the council is taking too long to look into the matter – we think 12 weeks is reasonable – you can complain to us.

You should make complain to us within 12 months of becoming aware of the fault by the council or we may not be able to consider it. But we will look at your reasons for any delay before we decide.

For more information on how to complain, please read our step by step process.

If you can consider my complaint what will the Ombudsman look for?

We examine whether the council considered the effect of development on the conservation area and if so, how it decided to approve the development.

But it is a matter for the council, not the Ombudsman to decide what weight to give to the impact of development and whether it should grant planning permission.

What happens if the Ombudsman finds the council was at fault?

Where it has been at fault, and you have suffered significant injustice as a result, we can recommend the council takes action to put the matter right. Depending on what the complaint is about, we may ask it to:

  • find a practical method of reducing the adverse effect of the development on the conservation area, such as introducing screening, but
  • if this is not possible, consider what other remedy is suitable.

If we find  the council was at fault, and that it would not have reached the same decision if it had properly considered the effect upon the conservation area, we have no powers to require the council to revoke the planning permission (ie reverse the decision to grant the planning permission).

Examples of some complaints we have considered

Mrs G, represented by Mr H, complained that when the council granted consent for a planning application for a 17.5 metre high telecommunications mast, it failed to properly consider the application and follow notification procedures; as a result, the mast would impact on residents’ amenities and the character of the area of outstanding natural beauty and the neighbouring Conservation Area. We found no fault in the council’s notification procedures. However, we found fault due to a lack of recorded evidence showing the planning officer properly considered the appearance and screening of the mast. And, because the planning officer report did not refer to the Neighbourhood Plan as it should have done. We found Mrs G was caused distress though the fault found did not affect the decision outcome. We recommended a personal remedy for Mrs G and action by the council to prevent recurrence of the identified failings. 
Mrs X complained the council was at fault in its handling of planning matters for a property neighbouring her home in a conservation area. She said the development was overbearing, and affected the character of the area, but the council did not consider her objections to a planning application, its planning policies or the topography of the site when deciding the application, and failed properly to investigate her reports of planning breaches at the site. We investigated but found no procedural fault by the council and did not therefore criticise the merits of its decisions even though Mrs X was unhappy about them.

Other sources of information

Your local council may have a website on which you can locate conservation areas, or the council’s planning office will have maps showing its conservation areas.

Our fact sheets give some general information about the most common type of complaints we receive but they cannot cover every situation. If you are not sure whether we can look into your complaint, please contact us.

We provide a free, independent and impartial service. We consider complaints about the administrative actions of councils and some other authorities. We cannot question what a council has done simply because someone does not agree with it. If we find something has gone wrong, such as poor service, service failure, delay or bad advice and that a person has suffered as a result we aim to get it put right by recommending a suitable remedy.

January 2022

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