Conservation areas

This fact sheet is aimed primarily at 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 planning permission was considered: but you cannot appeal about the decision to the Ombudsman or any other body. 

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

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

If you are the planning applicant, you will have the right to appeal 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 giving your reasons why you think the application should not be approved. We will not normally consider a complaint about a planning application until a decision has been made. This is because, even if a council has done something wrong, we do not know until that point whether the fault will affect the outcome.

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 outcome, 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 your complaint 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.

To complain to the Ombudsman phone our helpline on 0300 061 0614 (8.30am to 5.00pm, Mondays to Fridays). You will be able to discuss your complaint with one of our advisers. You can text us on 0762 481 1595.

You can complete an online complaint form.

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

We consider whether the council took into account the effect of development on the conservation area and if so, how it reached a decision that the development should be permitted.

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

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

Where it has been at fault, and you have suffered significant injustice as a result, we can recommend that 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 the introduction of screening, but
  • if this is not possible, consider whether compensation is appropriate.

If we find that the council was at fault, and would not have reached the same decision if proper consideration had been given to 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 that the council had not given reasonable consideration to the effect of a proposed new 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 that the new shop was not an improvement on the existing garage or that it was not built 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 the handling of an application led to planning permission being granted for a terrace of houses of modern design in a conservation area, which they considered inappropriate. The Ombudsman found that the council’s area committee was not informed of the conservation officer’s concerns about the proposed development. Councillors therefore made their decision on the basis of incomplete information. However, the Ombudsman could not say with certainty that 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 make a payment of £2,000 to the Preservation Trust to be used for a project of benefit to the conservation area.

Other sources of information

Government guidance on conservation areas is included in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) at paragraphs 126-141. The NPPF can be downloaded from

Your local council may have a website on which you can locate conservation areas, or alternatively 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.

March 2015