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Computer error blamed after neighbour not notified of planning application

A computer error meant neighbours were not consulted about a change-of-use planning application in their area, a watchdog’s report says.

“Ms X” contacted Telford and Wrekin Council several months after it had granted consent and was initially told authority records showed it posted letters to her and her neighbours.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman decision notice says the council later accepted this was a mistake, and has apologised and offered £200 to recognise Ms X’s “avoidable time and trouble”.

She also asked the authority to withdraw the permission and re-consult her and her neighbours, but it said it could not.

The watchdog backs the decision, adding that the neighbours’ objections were “not likely to have affected” the eventual approval.

The anonymised report notes that councils are legally required to publicise planning proposals.

“The council decided to send letters to nearby properties and those it identified included Ms X’s home,” it adds.

“While the council placed information on its website, it did not print and post letters to Ms X and her neighbours, although its records showed this had happened.”

Recording no objections, the council assessed and approved the application.

“Months passed before Ms X became aware of the planning permission,” the LGO report adds.

“She said she and her neighbours felt let down by the council and upset by the grant of planning permission for development that was not appropriate in a residential area.

“The council realised it had not printed the neighbour letters. It said there had been a ‘computer error’ and sincerely apologised for the upset this had caused Ms X.”

The report said the council told Ms X is “could not now remake that decision”, and had considered the effect on neighbours when making it.

“It also explained the steps it had taken to prevent similar print and post problems arising in the future,” it adds.

Submitting her complaint, Ms X told the LGO the council had admitted a procedural error and refused to revisit the decision. Responding to the watchdog, the council repeated its “unreserved apology” and offered her £200 “to recognise its error had put her to avoidable time and trouble”.

“The key issue for me was whether the evidence showed the council’s fault had affected its planning decision,” the LGO investigator adds.

“If the fault made no difference, Ms X would be in the same position: living near the development. But, if writing to Ms X and other residents and considering their objections would more likely than not have led the council to refuse planning permission, they would face greater injustice.”

After considering Ms X’s five grounds for objection, the LGO investigator concludes: “I also do not find that the failure to write to Ms X about the development and her resulting lost opportunity to object was likely to have affected the council’s decision.”

Article originally posted on Shropshire Star

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