Council ordered to pay hundreds after botched response to planning complaints

A local government ombudsman found fault with the council in its handling of a complaint about planning enforcement
A local government ombudsman found fault with the council in its handling of a complaint about planning enforcement

The council have been ordered to pay hundreds of pounds in compensation to a home owner after failing to properly investigate alleged breaches of planning control by a house builder.

The planning ombudsman has published its findings after a man, who is referred to to a Mr X, made a string of complaints dating back to 2018.

In 2016, the council granted planning permission for a developer to build houses next to the site of a manufacturing company, Business A.

The council placed several conditions on the planning approval, including an acoustic fence and landscaping and in late 2017, Mr X moved into one of the new houses.

From early 2018, Mr X complained to the council about noise nuisance from Business A. Mr X said the acoustic fence between his property and Business A was ineffective and did not meet planning specifications.

Mr X also said he considered the windows installed in his property may not meet the required standards and the council had not verified that Business A had complied with a landscaping condition and had not adhered to a planning condition, which restricted the hours it was permitted to operate in part of its premises.

In August 2022, Mr X complained to the ombudsman who then contacted the council who confirmed it had not yet replied to Mr X’s complaint made several months earlier in April 2022.

Bolton Council said it would respond to Mr X’s complaint within 10 working days but in October 2022, he still had not received a response.

In the report, the ombudsman said: “I have seen no evidence to show how or why the council considered the matters relating to the windows and acoustic fence were not planning issues and have seen no rationale for how it made this decision.

“It is for the council to decide what, if any, enforcement action is appropriate, however, we expect councils to keep proper and appropriate records to demonstrate clearly the rationale for their decisions.

“The council is unable to demonstrate how it made its decision that Mr X’s concerns about his windows and the acoustic fence did not constitute a planning control breach, and/or whether it was expedient to take enforcement action.

“The council’s failure to demonstrate its rationale regarding this matter is fault.

In addition, the council’s enforcement policy states it will notify the informant if it decides there is no breach.

“I have seen no evidence the council told Mr X it decided the issue of the windows and the fence was not a breach of planning control.”

Mr X’s complaint about noise by Business A is the subject of an ongoing court hearing, and were therefore not part of this investigation.

However, the ombudsman said the council did not inform Mr X of this so failed to adhere to its complaints policy. The report, said: “The council’s policy is clear that it will provide a response within 20 working days, or will inform the complainant if this is not possible. I have seen no evidence the council kept Mr X informed and no evidence of a complaint response.

“Having identified fault, I must consider if this caused a significant injustice to Mr X.

“Mr X says the noise nuisance negatively impacts the value of his house and affects his family’s ability to work and study at home. I acknowledge Mr X’s comments regarding the impact to him and his family.

“However, this relates to the complaints of noise nuisance which are the subject of an ongoing court hearing, and are therefore not part of this investigation.

“The impact of the fault identified as part of this investigation is the avoidable stress and uncertainty caused by the council’s delay in responding to Mr X, and its failure to provide a rationale for its decisions regarding the alleged planning control breaches.”

The ombudsman ordered the council to apologise and make a payment of £600 to Mr X in recognition of the time and trouble taken in pursuing the complaint and the stress and uncertainty caused. Bolton Council will also remind staff of its enforcement policy, specifically notifying informants when the council decides there is no breach of planning permission.

It will also review Mr X’s concerns of alleged planning breaches relating to the windows, acoustic fence and restrictions regarding the use of Business A’s premises to determine whether the council considers it is expedient to take enforcement action.

A spokesperson for the council said: “The council has listened carefully to the Ombudsman’s findings, and we have apologised.

"As an organisation, we take every opportunity to learn and improve the services we deliver for our residents.”