West Oxfordshire District Council has been ordered to pay planning appeal costs, after it was found to have made “vague” and “unsupported” assertions – despite the authority’s original decision being upheld.
Blue Cedar Homes and Cornbury Estates Company appealed to the Planning Inspectorate – a national body that has the final say when applicants are unhappy with the outcomes from councils – over whether they should be allowed to build seven single-storey retirement homes to the east of London Lane, Ascott-under-Wychwood.
It was a delegated decision, meaning it was taken by planning professionals at the council rather than councillors in August 2021.
Inspector Paul Thompson ruled the correct decision had been reached but said “the applicants may have been able to approach the appeal differently or not pursue it” had the council’s report provided sufficient detail.
Mr Thompson wrote: “In the planning judgement, it appears to me that, having regard to the provisions of the development plan, national planning policy and other material considerations, the development proposed should not have been permitted.
“However, the applicants submitted their statement of the case, which includes a detailed analysis of the policy context and reappraisal of existing evidence presented at the planning application stage in light of the officer report and decision notice.
“A new report of the need for the development was also produced by the applicants, but this did not ultimately provide a detailed assessment of the need for the development in the settlement.
“The applicants also provided a rebuttal of the council’s case, which amounted to further detailed analysis of each area of disagreement. Had the council’s officer’s report been clearer, the applicants may have been able to approach the appeal differently or not pursue it.
“The refusal of planning permission, by advancing vague assertions about the proposal’s impact, unsupported by any objective analysis of the applicant’s evidence and the council’s local plan… constitutes unreasonable behaviour.
“As a direct result, the applicants have been faced with the unnecessary expense of preparing evidence for the appeal against the council’s case which, from its officer report, was not clearly articulated or understandable in a number of areas.”
The award related to two areas of the appeal, and the companies have been invited to submit a bill for costs. If the parties cannot agree on an amount, it will be decided by the Senior Courts Costs Office.
When asked why costs had been awarded over a successful appeal during this week’s meeting of the council’s Uplands Area Planning Sub-Committee, planning officer Kelly Murray, who was not this application’s case officer, said: “Apparently, this was to do with the report not being sufficiently clear in a couple of respects.
“Apparently, it was vague as to the assertions about the impact, and because of that, when the appellant made the appeal, their statement had to cover a lot of speculative stuff because they were not entirely sure what they were trying to address. That was why we had partial costs awarded against us.”