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 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 the Ombudsman 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 against an adverse decision. We would usually expect you to take this route, rather than making a complaint to the Ombudsman.

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, visit our contact page or complete an online complaint form.

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 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

Mr P complained the council had not considered properly the effect of a proposed development on the local conservation area. The development, a shop faced in the local stone, replaced a car sales forecourt and garage built in the 1950s which had become run down and shabby. The council said it could not argue the new shop was not an improvement on the existing garage or that it was not in harmony with surrounding stone properties. The council could not, therefore, say that the new shop did not preserve or enhance the conservation area. The Ombudsman did not find that council had acted with maladministration here.
A Preservation Trust complained that administrative errors in handling an application led to the council granting planning permission for a terrace of houses of modern design in a conservation area, which they considered inappropriate. The Ombudsman found the council’s area committee was not told of the conservation officer’s concerns about the proposed development. Councillors therefore decided the application on incomplete information. However, the Ombudsman could not say with certainty the decision would have been any different had this been known. Also, the council was slow to take enforcement action against the developer for breaching conditions attached to the planning permission. The Ombudsman found the maladministration had caused the complainants injustice in their sense of outrage that councillors had granted planning permission without knowing the views of the conservation officer, and because they would never know whether the development might have been avoided. The council agreed to pay £2,000 to the Preservation Trust for a project of benefit to the conservation area.

Other sources of information

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) includes Government guidance on conservation areas in section 16 at paragraphs 184-202. The NPPF can be downloaded from www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/6077/2116950.pdf

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.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman provides 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 the Ombudsman aims to get it put right by recommending a suitable remedy.

September 2018 

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