Another apparent dressing down of Castle Point Council over Janda Fields and the Council’s approach to the Green Belt from the planning Inspectorate!
This time over their attitude to Green Belt and the need for a 5 year supply of Travellers pitches.
“Their approach seems to have been to cherry pick from the available documents”
Given the recent proclamations regarding Green Belt guidance, by Ministers, our MP and some local councillors, there appears only one course of action left for Castle Point Borough Council.
They must pursue this and firstly Appeal and then take legal action should the appeal be unsuccessful.
To take no action would signal a level of doubt over the claims that Green Belt does not have to be used for development!
Castle Point residents will consider that taking no action an admittance of no confidence in the local authority and in the Planning Guidance. Effectively asking have we been misled?
“I consider the Council’s approach to the case was flawed in both their attitude to the Green Belt and to the need to provide for a 5 year supply of Travellers sites.”
The statement by the Inspector to award the Janda Fields appellant’s cost attacked CPBC’s approach to Green Belt and understanding of Green Belt.
This flawed approach may indicate that this may not be confined to this particular case.
It should be remembered that the Local Authority’s defence during the Glebelands Appeal enquiry was similarly exposed.
Only the intervention of the Secretary of State saved that situation!
It appears that Castle Point Council have misunderstood what “very special circumstances” amount to. All very concerning ahead of the Jotmans Farm and Glebelands Appeal hearings!
Some of the Inspectors findings are quite damning of CPBC’s approach.
The next moves by CPBC in either, agreeing to pay costs, or to risk the further costs of Appeal and legal fees will indicate how residents taxes are valued.
The copy below is a slightly condensed version of the ruling.
“Costs application in relation to Appeal Ref: APP/M1520/A/13/2190216 Janda Field, Fane Road, Benfleet, Essex, SS7 3NQ
The application is made by (3 groups of people) for a full award of costs against Castle Point Borough Council. The hearing was in connection with an appeal against the refusal of planning permission for a change of use from animal sanctuary to three Travellers pitches with associated works and for the keeping of horses.
The hearing was in connection with an appeal against an enforcement notice alleging a material change of use of the land to a caravan site for residential occupation by Travellers.
2. There were significant errors in the notice and if this led the Inspector to conclude it should be quashed the costs of the Hearing were wasted. 3. Alternatively, the site was a limited infill on previously developed land and so not inappropriate development in the Green Belt. If this is not agreed the development nevertheless has no impact on openness and should still have been allowed.
The Council failed to explain why they consider very special circumstances in Green Belt cases have to be unique to the site or incapable of frequent repetition. 5. The Council failed to have proper regard to the provisions of Planning Policy for Traveller Sites (PPfTS) and the Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS),
6. Finally the Council failed to substantiate their second reason for refusal that to allow the appeal would undermine their strategic consideration of traveller site provision.
The response by Castle Point Borough Council 7. The Council disagreed with all the above arguments. In essence they considered their objections were on the merits of the case and most of the appellant’s arguments concerned an interpretation of those merits. In no instances have the Council acted unreasonably.
The Planning Practice Guidance (PPG) advises that, irrespective of the outcome of the appeal, costs may only be awarded against a party who has behaved unreasonably and thereby caused the party applying for costs to incur unnecessary or wasted expense in the appeal process. 9. There were two key issues that seemed to dictate the Council’s approach to the appeal, their attitude to the Green Belt and to the shortage or otherwise of Traveller pitches. On the former I agreed with them that the development was inappropriate and so it followed that very special circumstances needed to be identified. I found the openness of the Green Belt was improved and attached weight to the educational needs of the children. While these are matters of judgement it is incumbent on the Council to justify their opposing viewpoint. Some of the issues, such as the impact of residential use on openness were arguable, but the Council did not seem to consider or give any weight to the fact that the site was previously developed land, a fact which they accepted or the educational needs advanced by the appellants. This latter issue was just noted. 10. It is also difficult to see how allowing the appeal would set a precedent, given the very unusual set of circumstances pertaining to the site. Part of the reason for issuing the enforcement notice was because of the fear of precedent, and no cogent reasons were brought forward to support this. 11. The Council attributed a meaning to ‘very special circumstances’ that I considered to be wrong, and was not supported by any cases that have been considered in the courts.
The Council also seemed to misdirect themselves in applying paragraph 15 of policy E of the PPfTS which refers only to permanent changes to the Green Belt whereas in this appeal a temporary, whether personal or time-limited, outcome was always a possibility which the Council seemed to have ignored. Both the errors concerning very special circumstances and paragraph 15 of the PPfTS were important considerations in the report to committee. The officers found that there were no very special circumstances because none of the arguments raised by the appellant met the unreasonably restrictive definition they had applied. Similarly they identified an objection in principle because of paragraph 15 of the PPfTS which they had partly misinterpreted. It is clear the Council did not approach the Green Belt correctly and so the appellants were not given a fair hearing.
On the matter of Travellers pitches I also disagreed with the weight the Council placed on the GTAA compared to the RSS. It seems to me the Council have placed all their eggs in the basket of the GTAA without any proper reason being given for doing so. Even the argument that the GTAA is more up to date is not convincing. They also chose to ignore those parts of the GTAA that suggested a higher number of pitches should be made available. Their approach seems to have been to cherry pick from the available documents those parts that minimised their need to consider providing more Travellers pitches and ignore any contrary view, regardless of the provenance, reliability or position in the local planning hierarchy of any of those documents. This view is supported by the Council’s assertion that they would not be providing for any travellers pitches in their local plan, even though at the time they had no idea what the outcome of the new GTAA might be. Had the Council adopted a more reasonable approach to pitch provision they might have reached a different conclusion on this appeal. 14. I agree that the use of conditions could overcome many of the local residents’ concerns. Conditions could not, however, overcome the Council’s in principle objections so their lack of consideration did not affect the Council’s decision to refuse the application or issue the notice. 15. The Council’s second reason for refusal is a little confusing. It includes their reliance on the GTAA. They argue that because there is no shortfall of sites, to allow the application would deny them the opportunity to consider the provision of traveller sites in a strategic manner. But they said at the Hearing that they were not considering providing any sites, regardless. 16. I do not consider the Council advanced a cogent long term Traveller site policy at the Hearing and seemed to ignore the potential for the new GTAA to change the situation. Consequently, I do not consider the Council substantiated the second reason for refusal at the Hearing. 17. Taking all this together I consider the Council’s approach to the case was flawed in both their attitude to the Green Belt and to the need to provide for a 5 year supply of Travellers sites. This seriously undermined their consideration of the planning application and the decision to issue an enforcement notice. I conclude that this amounts to unreasonable behaviour and a full award of costs is justified.“