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

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

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.

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.

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.

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? 

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

A housing association was granted planning permission by a council to demolish derelict flats on land adjoining Mr A’s property and to build 20 new low-rise flats. The council should have notified Mr A about the application but did not. The planning committee visited the site before making a decision, but at that time Mr A’s property was shielded by a line of established trees on his land. Before any work was started on the site next door, Mr A cut down his trees because of the fire risk from hooligans who vandalised the derelict flats. When built, one of the new flats overlooked Mr A’s living room and main bedroom, affecting his right to privacy. We could not say whether the decision would have been different if Mr A had been able to object, or his trees had been cut down before the planning committee’s site visit. But if he had been notified about the application, Mr A would not have cut down his trees. The council agreed to plant a row of established trees on Mr A’s property to form an effective screen and to pay him £100 for the time and trouble he was put to in pursuing his complaint.
Ms B complained that the council did not consult her about a planning application for a development of three houses behind her home. She said that the houses would have an unacceptable impact on her property. We found that the council had failed to notify Ms B and so she did not have a chance to object to the planning application. But we also found that, in granting permission, the planning committee had considered the likely effect of the proposed development on neighbouring properties properly and had visited the site. Our view was that, even if Ms B had been given the chance to make her objections known,they were unlikely to have made a difference to the decision. The council apologised to Ms B for its error and updated its records to make sure that the same problem did not occur again. We decided that the council had done enough to put matters right and we did not ask for any further remedy.

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