The Local Government Ombudsman recently upheld a complaint of maladministration against Calderdale Council. The decision related to the grant of planning permission which the Council’s Local Planning Authority (LPA) had given for an extension and alterations to a primary school which was situated next to a Grade II* listed 17th century hall. As well as acting as the LPA, the Council also submitted the planning application.
There are strict planning policy controls in place to protect listed buildings. Planning policy requires that any new buildings must be carefully designed to reflect the setting of the historical buildings which they are to stand alongside. The law further requires that English Heritage be consulted about planning applications which affect listed buildings.
The Ombudsman found the setting of the listed hall had not been considered when the extensions and alterations to the school were designed as the Council had given no instruction in this regard. The decision of the LPA was made by an inexperienced planning officer who failed to consult English Heritage and didn’t know that she should have considered the impact of the development on the hall. English Heritage said that they would have opposed the application had they known about it, as the proposals adversely affected the open, green setting of the hall and made the school more prominent to the front and rear of it.
The Ombudsman found maladministration in the decision of the LPA to amend the terms of the planning permission (which they had no power to do) to allow cedar cladding on a prominent feature wall to be changed to a bright blue render. Another change to the initial permission allowed a new tarmac footpath along the boundary of the hall. These changes were neither publicised nor publicly discussed and there was a further failure to inform English Heritage. Local residents and English Heritage said they would have objected to these changes had they been notified of them.
The Ombudsman was satisfied that these decisions were evidence of maladministration by the Council and agreed with the complainants that they had suffered injustice as a result of them. The Council agreed to change the colour of the cladding, to discuss with English Heritage and local residents the best way to deal with the boundary footpath and to improve their internal controls and ensure staff in their planning department are properly trained, supported and supervised and are aware of the legal and policy requirements which are imposed on them during the planning process. In addition, the Council agreed to pay costs to English Heritage and to make payments to residents of the hall to reflect the time, trouble and stress in pursuing their complaints