Councils should publish enforcement plans, says watchdog

Councils should set out how they will investigate alleged cases of unauthorised development and make officers' reports easier to find on their websites, the local government watchdog has said.

Development: LGO says it investigated 1,631 planning complaints last year
Development: LGO says it investigated 1,631 planning complaints last year

The suggestions are among a series of recommendations made by the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) in a study published today.

The paper highlights case studies and common issues from the LGO’s investigations of planning complaints.

Frequent areas where the LGO finds fault, it said, include: checking the validity of applications; considering objections; and explaining reasons for decisions.

The examples documented include an officer’s report to a planning committee that failed to mention the impact on nearby residents of a development or years of complaints about it.

In another, a council installed a footpath, barrier and lights in a school car park without applying for planning permission.

The report suggests that councils should consider publishing a local enforcement plan, in line with government guidance, to "set out how councils will investigate alleged cases of unauthorised development, the circumstances where they might take action, and the enforcement options they will consider".

Authorities should also make reports of delegated officers’ decisions easier to find on their websites, the report suggests, pointing out that Scottish councils attach such reports to all decision statements.

Other key recommendations the report makes, based on examples of council good practice, include:

  • Photographing site notices as evidence

  • Taking care when preparing neighbour notification letters to write to every property concerned.

  • Keeping a clear record of site visits

  • Developing a policy for dealing with amendments to planning applications and decisions

The majority of planning-related complaints the LGO receives are from people objecting to a council’s decision to grant permission, the report says.

Last year, the LGO said it investigated 1,631 planning complaints, and saw a 14 per cent rise in enforcement action complaints over the same period.

The report can be found here.

john.geoghegan@haymarket.com


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