National Ombudsmen
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Ombudsman criticises Bolton Council for failure to protect neighbour from development

There were serious flaws in the way Bolton Council approved a planning application for a large residential development next to a man’s home, finds Local Government Ombudsman, Dr Jane Martin.

In her report, issued yesterday, she says that, as a result, neither the Council’s planning committee nor the complainant knew that the property next to him would be two metres higher than his, or that the developer would remove the trees along his boundary. She finds that, had these issues been raised, the Council would have taken action to protect his privacy.

A resident complained that the Council approved a large residential development next to his home, but did not properly consider the impact it would have on him. In particular, he complained that the new house next to him was raised up by as much as two metres. Trees along the boundary, which had protected him, had been protected by Tree Preservation Orders, but the orders were removed during the planning process without his knowledge. The complainant felt that, taken together, the loss of trees and the raising of land levels affected his privacy and caused an overbearing impact.

The Ombudsman found a number of faults in the Council’s handling of the planning application.

The Case Officer’s report was deficient because:

  • it raised the issue of impact on neighbours, but did not address it
  • it did not mention the rise in land levels and include levels on existing residential land, and
  • it did not provide information about which protected trees would be removed.

The planning process was deficient because:

  • the Environment Agency was not consulted on flood risk issues, and
  • no account was taken of Government guidance on flood protection.

Because of these failures, the planning committee did not have the information it needed to make a fully-informed decision. The complainant and other residents could not know exactly how they might be affected. Because of the Council’s failure to consult the Environment Agency, the wrong flood risk standards were applied to the drainage.

The Ombudsman has recommended that the Council should:

  • apologise to the complainant, and meet him to discuss how it might now help restore his privacy and fund agreed work up to a cost of £1,000
  • pay him £500 for his time and trouble in bringing his complaint to her attention
  • review its policies and procedures to ensure it takes account of material planning considerations in future
  • update its internal guidance on consultations to include all statutory consultees
  • ensure that its case officers know that reports should both identify and address material planning considerations, and
  • meet the Environment Agency to correctly assess the adequacy of drainage on the site. If any work is deemed necessary, the details should be put to the Council to consider whether it will be funded.

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