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Watchdog bangs the drum over plans affecting heritage sites

by on December 3, 2015

Planners must ensure they refer to the correct legislation when considering applications affecting heritage sites, the Local Government Ombudsman has stressed.

The watchdog has highlighted this requirement following a complaint about Northampton Borough Council whose planning officers recommended councillors grant planning permission for a café extension in a conservation area, within a short distance of a Grade 1 listed building.

The planning officer involved in determining the application consulted with the council’s conservation officer, who said any works to the café would impact upon the setting of the listed building and upon the character and appearance of the conservation area.

But the planning officer omitted the conservation officer’s recommendation in his report to members and recommended approval of the application. The Ombudsman noted that the officer also failed to base his recommendation on the most relevant legislation, the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 which imposes a duty to pay special attention on both preserving the building or its setting, and also preserving or enhancing the character or appearance of a conservation area.

During the Ombudsman investigation it became apparent the council had not consulted with Historic England (then English Heritage). The watchdog also uncovered correspondence from Historic England which showed this was not the first occasion the council had not consulted properly with them on planning applications affecting historic assets.

The Ombudsman upheld the complaint after ruling that the council’s failure to have regard to a material planning consideration (that of the setting of the listed building and conservation area) was fault. It also found the council’s failure to consult with Historic England was fault, and there was fault in the way the council validated the application contrary to its own planning policy.

To remedy the complaint the LGO recommended that the council apologises to the complainant, introduces conservation training for all its planning officers and undertakes an immediate review of its procedures for dealing with planning applications which affect heritage assets.

The council has accepted the watchdog’s report and apologised to the complainant. In a statement it said it had begun to implement the Ombudsman’s recommendations. “On this occasion the service we provide clearly fell short of what people have a right to expect and we apologise.”

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Roger Milne

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