Your neighbour's planning application

This fact sheet is aimed primarily at people who have concerns about the council approving a neighbour’s planning application and may be considering making a complaint to the Ombudsman.

I am unhappy about the council’s decision to grant planning permission to my neighbour. Can the Ombudsman help me?

Yes, in some circumstances. The law doesn’t allow you to appeal against the council’s decision to us or any other body, and it isn’t our role to say whether permission should have been granted or not.

But, if you believe the council did something wrong in the way it went about deciding the application and caused you problems, then you can complain to us.

However, we will not uphold your complaint if it turns out the council followed the proper procedures, relevant legislation and guidance and considered any objections made but came to a decision you disagree with.

We cannot normally consider a complaint until the council has decided an application. This is because even if a council has done something wrong, we do not know until that point whether any fault will affect the outcome.

If you want to object to a planning application, you need to write to the council as soon as possible saying why you think the application should not be approved.

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. This is required, even if the development is being built. It is unlikely that any planning permission already granted will be changed by an investigation by either the council or us, but steps may be taken to reduce the effects of the development on you if fault is found. See 'What happens if the Ombudsman finds that the council was at fault?' below.

Usually, you should complain to us within 12 months of when you first knew about the problem. If you leave it any later, we may not be able to help.

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? 

If the council has done something wrong we look at what effect this had and what problems this led to for you. For example, is the fault likely to have made a difference to the outcome of the application? Some faults we might find are that the council:

  • did not notify you of an application although the law or its neighbour notification policy says it should
  • did not take your objections into account (this is not the same as not agreeing with your objections)
  • considered the application under the wrong procedure (such as delegating the decision to an officer when it should have been referred to a committee of councillors)
  • did not take into account, or failed to give proper reasons for not following, the relevant law, policy or guidance
  • did not give reasons for its decision to approve an application, or
  • made a decision based on inaccurate, incomplete or irrelevant planning considerations.

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

It depends on the fault and what the consequences are for you. We cannot force the council to overturn the planning decision or demolish the development, even if it overlooks your property or blocks your light.

  • If such harmful effects were caused by the council’s fault, we may recommend steps to reduce them.
  • If the development is not yet built or completed, it may be possible to agree minor changes to the scheme such as alterations to the opening of windows or doors or the provision of obscure glazing or an acoustic screen. This may not be possible, in which case we may ask a council to make you a payment to cover the cost of new planting or screening on your property.
  • If mitigation of the effects of the flawed decision is not possible, and it is clear that if there had been no fault the planning application would not have been approved, we may recommend a financial payment to remedy any loss of amenity. 
  • Where 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

Mr and Mrs X complained to the council about its decision to grant planning permission to their neighbour to convert a single storey house to a two-storey one. They complained about the scale of the development, and that it would cause loss of light, loss of privacy and significant overlooking.
The case officers report considered the scale of the front and rear extension, and said other changes would not be significantly out of character and appearance to other nearby properties. The council was entitled to make this decision. The report also says the proposal had been designed to respect the amenities of neighbouring properties avoiding unreasonable loss of light.
We found fault with the council as it was not clear how the case officer came to this conclusion. In response to our enquiries the council gave sufficiently clear reasons for its decision. There is no fault in the council’s decision making process, and the council was not obliged to carry out a site visit during the planning process. Therefore the fault identified did not cause injustice to Mr and Mrs X.

The council received an application from Mr X’s neighbour to extend their home. The council granted planning permission, however Mr X complained it had not properly considered the impact on his property. We found fault by the council as it had failed to consider whether the extension would have an overbearing impact or have a negative impact on Mr X’s outlook. These were relevant planning considerations mentioned in the council’s design guide. We decided that it is unlikely the council would have granted planning permission for the extension in its current form had these matters been properly considered. It was not possible to mitigate the impact and therefore we asked the council to apologise and pay Mr X £1,750 to acknowledge the permanent loss of amenity he has suffered. We also asked the Council to remind officers of the importance of demonstrating their considerations of the impact of a development.

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.

June 2023

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