In a planning context, local authority decision-making is only as good as the advice on which it is based. The High Court made that point in quashing planning consent granted for a controversial housing development on the edge of a historic village mentioned in the Domesday Book.
The site of the proposed four-home development was an undeveloped field, a small part of which lay within the village conservation area. There were a number of listed buildings nearby and access to the development would be via an unclassified lane that was itself considered a heritage asset.
In turning down a previous application to develop the site, the local planning authority (LPA) cited, amongst other things, the significant harmful impact of the proposal on the protected lane. Crucially, however, the owners of the site were subsequently granted a lawful development certificate (LDC) under the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015.
The LDC authorised the creation of a means of access to the lane so that the site could be used, for up to 14 days a year, for the purpose of holding a market. It thus created a fallback position that the owners could potentially take up if they were again refused planning consent. Another factor was that the LPA could not show that it had in hand a five-year supply of housing land. That, the owners argued, meant that a tilted balance in favour of the development applied.
After the owners amended their proposal and again sought planning consent, their application was granted on the casting vote of the chairman of the LPA’s planning committee. In upholding a challenge to the permission brought by the local parish council, however, the Court detected errors of law in advice given to members of the committee by the LPA’s professional planning officers.
Members were not adequately directed in written form on how they should approach the contentious fallback position. Important issues were conflated in an officer’s report and its conclusion that the development would cause no harm to listed buildings was infected by flawed logic. Members were not provided with a proper understanding of how to weigh the adverse impact of the proposal on heritage assets against public benefits and whether the tilted balance applied.