East Bergholt Parish Council has failed in a High Court challenge to decisions by Babergh District Council to grant planning permissions for 229 new homes in the Suffolk village.
Sir Ross Cranston, sitting as a High Court judge, said the three applications involved were not in accordance with the local development plan but were granted because Babergh could not demonstrate a five year housing land supply. They were therefore allowed under the provision of the National Planning Policy Framework that permits applications for developments deemed sustainable in this situation.
The case turned on the Parish Council’s claims that Babergh had not lawfully exercised its discretion when assessing deliverability in the context of a five year land supply. The Parish Council contended that the officer’s report did not direct councillors as to whether the scheme’s opponents had a point to make, and that an error in the calculation of the land supply was not corrected.
In East Bergholt Parish Council v Babergh District Council  EWHC 3400 (Admin) Sir Ross decided: “I cannot accept that the officer’s reports for the three sites were misleading, certainly not significantly misleading, in not directing councillors as to what is said was the error in the council’s 2017 [five year supply]. On their face there was nothing in my view untoward in the officer’s reports.”
He also ruled that Lindblom LJ’s judgment in St Modwen Developments Ltd v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government did not mean Babergh was wrong to take into account developer pressure and that the developers might mount legal challenges against the council.
“It is not unlawful for a local planning authority to want to have confidence that it will be able to robustly defend the judgments it forms on the deliverability of housing sites,” Sir Ross said. “For that reason the concern about challenges from developers was lawfully taken into account as a factor in decision-making.”
He also dismissed a claim that Babergh had acted unfairly in giving four days’ notice rather than five of papers for the meeting concerned.
Buckfastleigh Town Council (BTC) has decided to dissolve its planning, environment and transport committee, saying it was “clearly impotent” and risked misleading the public and misdirecting any concerns they had.
In a statement on its website, BTC said that that the committee had till now examined and responded on every local planning application made to the Dartmoor National Park Authority (DNPA), Teignbridge District Council (TDC) or Devon County Council (DCC).
At the meeting we observed that as a town council we have in fact had no powers in terms of planning since 1974, when TDC took over most of the powers of the then Buckfastleigh Urban District Council, but that many local people still felt that we had some control over planning decisions. This has led to both misplaced hope that bringing a case to the Planning Committee will make a difference to their case and consequent blame when planning decisions go ahead regardless of their concerns.
It has been made quite clear in recent years that the carefully considered and well-informed responses to planning applications to DNPA, TDC and DCC have been ignored by their planning authorities in reaching decisions. In fact BTC has recently lodged a formal complaint lodged with DCC about its inability to enforce planning legislation and its misconduct in issuing planning notices in the case of Whitecleave Quarry.
Since the start of this council in May 2015, none of the responses submitted by the Council in response to any major panning proposal in the parish has had an appreciable effect on the outcome …
We feel that by maintaining a ‘Planning’ committee, which is clearly impotent, we are misleading the public and misdirecting any concerns they have. We believe it would likely have more impact if all the individual councillors and members of the public made their own representations to planning authorities (although evidence is limited that this has any effect either!) and we don’t want to be duped into inadvertently acting as fodder for those authorities going through the motions of carrying out statutory consultative procedures, unless our opinion is actually given some weight.
We will continue to flag up any planning proposals that are likely to have a significant impact on the parish and fight for the interests of our constituents, but we will no longer formally meet as a planning committee to formulate our responses – these will come from full council. The current Planning, Environment & Transport committee will be dissolved and its members will meet to discuss any future remit.