Council counts cost of housing appeal

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Stratford-on-Avon District Council will have to foot a costly legal bill after unsuccessfully defending a planning decision, a government inspector has ruled.

The council’s planning committee refused an application for 112 homes on the former Norgren factory site on Campden Road, Shipston-on-Stour earlier this year, but CALA Homes appealed to the planning inspectorate.

In a decision dated June 27, planning inspector Elizabeth Ord overturned the council’s refusal, saying it needed to build more homes to meet Government targets.

Ms Ord also demanded the council pay the developers’ legal costs – which could amount to a six-figure sum – and criticised officers for failing to provide documentation for the inquiry. The council had hoped to defend the appeal on the grounds the development would significantly impact on the natural landscape, but Ms Ord concluded: “The proposal represents an overall benefit when considered against the existing industrial nature of the site.”

Some councillors believed the site should be maintained for employment to boost the town’s economy but Ms Ord wrote: “As there is limited demand for employment purposes there would be no loss of employment or business opportunities.”

She stated the homes needed to be built to fulfil targets under the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework:

“As relevant local plan policies are out of date, permission should be granted unless the adverse impacts of doing so would demonstrably outweigh the benefits,” she stated.

In granting costs to CALA homes, she added: “Irrespective of the outcome of the appeal, costs may only be awarded against a party who has behaved unreasonably and thereby caused another party to waste expense unnecessarily.

“The council accepted that it did not have a five-year land supply. It reviewed recently refused housing applications but decided not to permit the appellant’s scheme.”

She also slammed the council for failing to provide a copy of an officer’s report which stated the appeal would be undefendable. Planning officers had recommended the plans for approval.

Ms Ord said there were no “reasonable grounds” for the planning committee to make a decision against the advice of council officers.

Jeff Kenner, the council’s Labour member for Shipston, has written to the council’s chief executive calling for an independent investigation to find out why the authority failed to provide documents for the inquiry.

“In January the council’s consultants recommended 12-13,000 houses over 20 years,” he said. “The Tories once again ignored their advice – a decision that is likely to cause further costs and delay.”

Paul Lankester, the council’s chief executive said: “The report covers legally privileged information. As a consequence it would be inappropriate for the council to release the complete report, until such time as the whole matter has been concluded (ie costs issue resolved).

“To do anything else may prejudice the council’s position. The council may have released the report to the inspector only during the inquiry, but it was intimated that any document presented would have been shared with the appellants. This is plainly against the ‘rules of natural justice’ as the council would not dream of asking to see the appellant’s legal advice.”