Publicising planning applications

This fact sheet is aimed primarily at people who believe that the council has failed to advise them of a planning application that may affect them and may be considering making a complaint to the Ombudsman.

The council did not tell me about a planning application. Can the Ombudsman help me?

Yes, in some circumstances. If you believe that the council failed to tell you about a planning application and you were not able to object then you can complain to us. 

But we are unlikely to uphold your complaint if it turns out that the council followed the proper procedures, relevant legislation and guidance on the publicity of applications; or if you were not directly affected by the development. 

If you find out about a planning application and want to object, you should ask the council if you still have time to make an objection. If there is still time, you need to write to the council as soon as possible and say why you think the application should not be approved.

If the council tells you that the consultation period on the application has finished, you may be able to ask a councillor to contact council officers on your behalf about your concerns. If the application is being determined by a planning committee you should ask the council if you are able to present your objections at the meeting.

We cannot normally consider a complaint about an 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. 

There is no statutory requirement to publicise amendments to a planning application that are submitted before the application is decided. However, the Ombudsman takes the view that they should generally be subject to the same publicity procedure as the original application unless the amendments would not increase the impact on neighbours or others to whom the publicity was directed.

Councils do not have to publicise applications for very small changes to planning permissions, known as 'non-material amendments'. But they should publicise applications for more significant but still limited changes, referred to as 'minor material amendments'. We may consider how councils deal with both types of application. Government guidance encourages a proportionate approach taking into account who would be affected and the likely impact.

How do I complain? 

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 normally make your complaint to us within 12 months of realising that the council has done something wrong.

For more information on how to complain, visit our contact us page or complete an online complaint form.

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

We look at whether someone lost the chance to object, or speak at a committee. We will also consider whether a development would still have been approved, or if a planning permission might have been given with different conditions, if someone had made an objection. Depending on the council's procedures and the type of application, some faults we might find are that the council:

  • did not send you a notification letter 
  • did not put up a site notice, or put a notice in a place where few people would see it
  • wrongly described the development or gave inaccurate or misleading information about the application in its letters and site notices (for example ‘two storey’ instead of ‘three storey’)
  • did not consult with other bodies when it should have done (for example, English Heritage, for listed buildings or Natural England, for wildlife conservation) 
  • did not consult you on amended plans that increased the impact of the development, or
  • failed to correctly publish information about a planning application on its website. 

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

It depends on the fault and what the consequences have been for you. We cannot force the council to overturn the planning decision or remove the development.

If other people put objections that were considered and were similar to the one you would have made if you had known about the application, we are unlikely to take action. But:  

  • If you were directly affected and your objection would probably have led to a better outcome, we may ask the council to: 
    • take other steps, such as asking the developer if they are willing to make changes to the permitted scheme, if not yet built
    • pay for measures to reduce the impact of the development, or
    • in exceptional cases, where it is not possible to remedy the problem, we may ask the council to pay you a financial remedy.

If we find fault with the council’s procedures, we will often recommend that the council introduces changes so that the same problem does not occur again in the future.

Examples of some complaints we have considered

Mrs A complained that the council failed to inform her of a planning application for a three storey teaching block to replace a single storey school building. She said the development was overbearing and caused glare from reflected sunlight. The council did not consult her as the building was further away from her boundary than the distance required under its procedure for her to be notified. Mrs A was upset at not being able to comment on the application, but it was unlikely there would have been a different outcome, so we concluded that Mrs A had not suffered a significant injustice as a result of the alleged fault.
Mr B complained the council did not follow its own policy when publicising a planning application. We found fault, because the council’s policy said it should have erected a site notice, and it did not initially do this. But this did not affect Mr B, because he was already aware of the planning application and was able to submit his objections to the council.

Other sources of information

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.

 September 2019