This is usually the cheapest way of seeking redress, but can be used only in certain circumstances. The procedure is not concerned directly with the 'merits' of any case, i.e. whether permission should have been granted or refused, but rather in the methods used - or not used - to come to a decision. Examples of mistakes that this procedure is intended to deal with are:
- giving incorrect information or misleading advice in the report on the application
- failing to take account of information relevant to a planning decision or taking account of an irrelevant matter
- failing to consult properly on a planning application
Initially one has to complain to the authority that made the relevant decision using its formal complaints procedure (details of which should be on their website). Each authority’s procedures are slightly different, but normally they have two or three stages and, if you are not satisfied at one stage you can go on to the next. Generally local authorities try and resolve complaints as soon as possible and you have a good chance of getting resolution, but if you do not consider your complaint has been dealt with satisfactorily you can then take your complaint on to the Local Government Ombudsman.
The Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) examines complaints from people who feel that they have been disadvantaged because a local authority has not made a decision in the proper way. This is known as 'maladministration'.
Many of the complaints about the planning process are from objectors who disagree with an authority's decision to grant planning permission. A recent report from the LGO (Not in my back yard: Local people and the planning process) points out that these are often because objectors have not understood how the planning system works and how their objections have been considered. An authority's planners and members are limited in what can be considered and, specifically, cannot take account of the strength of local opposition to a development.
Many people misunderstand the LGO’s role as an appeal body. The LGO investigate individual complaints about fault causing personal injustice. This means they will usually only investigate a planning complaint if it is about a development that directly affects the person making the complaint.
When the Local Government Ombudsman finds that a mistake has occurred (normally referred to as “maladministration”), they will recommend appropriate recompense. The Ombudsman does not normally recommend that a planning permission be revoked, but rather a lesser measure such as screen planting at the authority's expense or the payment of compensation. The Ombudsman’s recommendations are not binding on the authority, though in most circumstances it will follow the Ombudsman’s recommendations.
Any complaint to the Ombudsman should be made within a year of you becoming aware of the situation you are complaining about, though this period could be extended in exceptional circumstances. The Ombudsman's advice line (0300 061 0614) or their web site, www.lgo.org.uk provide further information about the role of the LGO.