South Derbyshire District Council

South Derbyshire District Council Planning Committee – “behaved unreasonably” according to a Government Inspector

In November 2019, the Planning Committee ( comprising 13 elected Councillors, one of whom is the Leader Cllr Martyn Ford) refused a planning application from Talbot Turf / Talbot Farm Landscapes for the construction of 9 light industrial units in Hilton.  This was against the recommendation of the South Derbyshire District Council’s (SDDC) Planning Officer. This was taken to appeal and the Government Inspector allowed it and planning permission was granted.

As this appeal resulted in significant costs for Talbot Turf / Talbot Farm Landscapes they made an application for an award of costs.

The Inspector stated in the pre-amble to his report

“Local planning authorities are at risk of an award of costs if they behave unreasonably with respect to the substance of the appeal, for example by unreasonably refusing an application or by a failure to produce evidence to substantiate each reason for refusal on appeal.”

SDDC’s Planning Committee would have been aware that, if they refuse an application, that the grounds for that refusal must be water-tight, and capable of external independent examination.

The Government Inspector decided that they had  “behaved unreasonably” on 2 of the grounds given for refusal:

  • A plan had not been submitted to show that there was enough visibility to safely exit the premises ( visibility splay). If the plan assumed actions on 3rd party property then this could have led to a refusal, however, in this case,  it was all achievable on the applicant’s land. The Committee should have simply imposed a planning condition to formulate a plan before work starts.

 

  • The 2nd ground concerned the expected increase in the number of Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV) movements to and from the site. Derbyshire County Council, as the Highways Authority, did not raise this as an issue.
    • The Inspector concluded, that the Planning Committee:
      • ‘….had no evidence either to inform or support its assertion that the proposal “would attract a higher number of HGVs and vehicle movements to the site”’
      • “…in its decision the Council was guilty of making vague or generalised assertions about the impact of the proposal that are not supported by any objective evidence. I therefore find that the Council acted unreasonably in refusing permission on this ground.”
      • “…This failure to produce evidence to substantiate this part… also amounts to unreasonable behaviour on the Council’s part.”

Comment

It is entirely possible that a Government Inspector can allow an appeal, but not award costs;  this would be where the basis for refusal is a matter of judgement or the interpretation of a technicality but that the logic for the conclusion was “reasonable”.

SDDC in the guise of the Planning Committee ( 13 elected Councillors) and the Planning Officers know the rules.

The Planning Officer should objectively analyse and report on all facts and figures in an unbiased way, and conclude with a planning recommendation that takes into account ALL pertinent information.

The Planning Committee should ask questions of the Officer that informs their vote on the matter.  They can impose conditions to make sure that outstanding matters of detail are dealt with before work starts,  or they can defer the decision where there is a shortage of information.

“… making vague or generalised assertions about the impact of the proposal that are not supported by any objective evidence” is not an option!.

Why wasn’t all of the information made available to the Planning Committee by the Officer? Why did the Planning Committee not exercise appropriate judgement? Complacency? Arrogance? Lack of training?

Due to their “unreasonable behaviour” the Council, and therefore the local tax payer, will incur unnecessary costs.

Is the SDDC Planning Committee fit for purpose?

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