Appeal for Residential Development in Felbridge

Impact Planning Services Ltd (IPS), represented our clients, Abbey Developments Ltd (ADL) in a non-determination appeal against Tandridge District Council for the development of an access road to served permitted residential development within the neighbouring Mid Sussex District, at Copthorne Road, Felbridge.

Planning Application

The proposals spanned across two District Council boundaries. The housing element of the proposal lay within Mid Sussex District Council (MSDC) and comprised 26 dwellings. This element was approved by MSDC, however the access for the development lay within Tandridge District Council (TDC) and was the subject of the appeal.

Following the submission of the application TDC had failed to make a decision on the access proposals after a period of more than 1 year. The application attracted local concern regarding the increased highways impact on the surrounding area, however, throughout the application process there was no objection to the proposed development by Surrey County Council or neighbouring West Sussex County Council in their capacities as Local Highways Authorities. IPS was therefore instructed to prepare an appeal against the non-determination by TDC.

Committee Decision

Following the registration of the Appeal, the application was called to the Planning Committee for consideration, had the proposals been before the Committee members for determination. The committee resolved that the application would have been refused. This was despite the lack of technical evidence to support their case, the positive recommendation from the Case Officer, and the lack of objection from the relevant highways authorities.

The main issue cited in the single reason for refusal was the additional congestion at the A264/A22 Felbridge junction.

Conjoined Inquiry

During the course of the Appeal, IPS became aware of proposals for the development of 63 dwellings, some 500m from the Appeal site at Crawley Down Road. The application had been refused by TDCs Planning Committee, citing the same reasons for refusal as the ADL scheme and the concerns regarding additional congestion at the A264/A22 Felbridge junction.

Following discussion between the two Appellant teams, it was decided to seek a request to conjoin the two appeals and to determine the application by way of public inquiry. The Planning Inspectorate was agreeable to this procedure and the two Appellant teams worked together, preparing the relevant proof of evidences, statement of common grounds and associated evidence.

Prior to the Inquiry, TDC failed to submit planning evidence to the Inspector and did not undertake the careful balancing exercise required to consider the proposals in the context. Two days before the cases were due to be heard at the Inquiry, TDC withdrew its case and did not put forward any witnesses to explain its position. The Inquiry thus proceeded without any evidence from TDC, and without any cross examination of the Appellants’ case.

The Inspector’s Decision

The Inspector concluded that any additional congestion at the A264/A22 traffic light junction would be ‘barely perceptible’. In assessing the impact on the junction, it was noted that this was to be improved following other housing commitments in the area and a planned improvement of the A264/A22. The Inspector concluded that the effect would be well short of a severe impact that would weigh against the proposals in the planning balance and would be at most ‘slight’.

The Inspector noted the substantial benefits of both proposals and the pressing need for housing in the area. The benefits of the proposals greatly outweighed any additional congestion and thus both appeals were allowed.

Award of Costs

Both Appellant teams submitted applications for a full award of costs against TDC. The Inspector considered that it was unreasonable for the Council to pursue such a fundamentally flawed case that had no realistic prospect of success. The Inspector concluded in his costs decision letter:

‘In essence, in the face of clear officer advice, the Council pursued two appeals that had no realistic prospects of success. The Council delayed development which should clearly have been permitted, misapplied policy, failed to carry out a planning balance, failed to keep the cases under review until the last minute and failed to present any evidence to substantiate the reasons for refusal at the inquiry. The appellants therefore had no option but to pursue their appeals to an unnecessary inquiry, incurring wasted expense in doing so.’

The Inspector considered that in both cases, TDC what acted wholly unreasonably resulting in unnecessary and wasted expense and a full award of costs was therefore justified.

Lessons Learnt

IPS worked hard to prepare a robust planning case against the non-determination of TDC and continued lethargy throughout the application process and absence of a case or any defence at the inquiry. Whilst we were pleased to secure this significant result and approval for our client, this was not without significant work, which was largely unnecessary considering the particulars of the proposal.

We have previously highlighted the concerns at Planning Committees [LINK] and Councillors preconceived opinions towards locally controversial applications. In this case the Committee ignored the guidance of the Case Officer, and in the absence of any technical evidence sought to object to this application through political lobbying to the inquiry itself.

However, the conduct of the Planning Committee is not the only cause for concern in this decision. The actions of TDC’s planning department have caused significant costs to the authority and the local tax payer. The significant delay in approving this minor access road was unsubstantiated, and the route to an appeal inquiry clearly wholly unnecessary.