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Judge quashes planning permission for gypsy caravan development

A Deputy High Court judge has quashed a council’s grant of planning permission for a change of use of land from grazing to residential for a gypsy caravan and a touring caravan.

In XY, R (on the application of) v Maidstone Borough Council & Anor [2016] EWHC 1436 (Admin) the claimant argued that a number of errors had occurred in the grant of permission for the ‘Blossom Site’ at Maplehurst Lane, Frittenden Road, Staplehurst, Kent.

These were that:

1. The members of the planning committee failed to have regard to the status in planning terms of nearby gypsy sites which were either in unlawful use or in one case subject to a personal planning permission.

2. The committee failed to take into account that in granting planning permission in 2014 for the Perfect Place site (a wider area of which the ‘Blossom site’ was part) the council had concluded that more than one static caravan or touring caravan on that overall site would have an unacceptable visual impact.

3. The committee failed to take reasonable steps to obtain relevant information before concluding that the planning applicant was a gypsy.

4. The committee failed to have regard to the evidence base for the emerging local plan as to the sustainability of the site.

5. The council erred in failing to treat the current application and the applications then pending before it on the neighbouring sites as one project and therefore the application was a "Schedule 2 application" for the purposes of Regulation 7 of the Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2011 and the council should have adopted a screening opinion under Regulation 5.

Rhodri Lewis QC, sitting as a Deputy High Court judge, concluded that the claim succeeded on the first ground.

He said it was material that the sites to the north of the Blossom site were either in unlawful use and therefore susceptible to enforcement action or had the benefit of only temporary permission.

“The character of the area could therefore change if the council took action or if the temporary permission expired,” the judge said. “This is not to criticise the officer's report in an inappropriately legalistic way but simply to point out that relevant information was not put before the members at all and that information might have caused them to reach a different decision.

“The defendant [council] did not suggest that the members knew of the planning status of these other sites fronting Maplehurst Lane from their local knowledge or from having been members of the committee on previous occasions. There was certainly no evidence to that effect.

Judge Lewis added: In my judgment the members of the committee were significantly misled about material matters by [the officer’s report] in that they were invited to make a decision to grant planning permission in reliance on matters that were potentially temporary in nature that went to a key issue in the decision, namely, the extent of harm to the character of the area by the development for which planning permission was being sought.”

He rejected the other four grounds of challenge but decided against exercising his discretion not to quash the planning permission. This was because in his judgment there was “a real possibility that if the members of the committee had been made aware of the unlawful nature of three of the sites fronting onto Maplehurst Lane and that the fourth site had a personal planning permission they would have reached a different decision”.

He added: “In particular they might have decided to grant a temporary planning permission in order to see what decisions were taken on the pending applications in respect of the sites in unlawful use. So in terms of section 31 (2A) of the Senior Courts Act 1981 I am not satisfied that it would be highly likely that the outcome would not have been substantially different if the committee members had been provided with the relevant information about the status of the nearby sites.”

Andrew Parkinson of Landmark Chambers appeared for the claimant, instructed by Richard Buxton Environmental & Planning Law Solicitors.

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