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Campaigners win judicial review challenge over major scheme but judge declines to grant relief

A campaign group opposed to a large development in Dorset has partially won its case at judicial review but been granted no relief.

In Advearse, R (on the application of) v Dorset Council & Ors [2020] EWHC 807 Mr Justice Swift said in the High Court that the decision on the planning application would have been the same even without the faults he found.

The case was brought against Dorset Council by local campaign group Advearse, and its members Lewis Gerolemou and Phillip Summerton.

Dorset gave permission to developer Hallam Land Management at Vearse Farm, near Bridport, for 760 homes, a 60-unit care home, a mixed-use local centre, primary school, open space and four hectares for employment use.

Advearse challenged the consent over whether the former West Dorset District Council properly considered the effect on the Bridport Conservation Area and the Toll House, a Grade II listed property just outside the site.

Swift J said the officer’s report accepted the development would leave both the conservation area and the Toll House intact and its impact would be “less than substantial”.

He said though that the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) had not been applied correctly over the Toll House.

“It is neither unreasonable, nor an exercise in nit-picking to expect a planning authority to be able to show it has correctly understood and applied policies in the NPPF as they apply to all parts of a proposed development,” Swift J said.

The judge also said the officer’s report did not properly address the application of paragraph 134 of NPPF 2012, a matter material to the decision.

But even though Advearse succeeded on these points, Swift J said: “I am satisfied that it is highly likely that…the councillors would have reached the same conclusion on the application for planning permission for the Vearse Farm development.”

He said the public benefits of the project were clearly apparent from an inspector's report on the local plan.

Information relevant to the proper application of Part 12 of the NPPF was in the officer's report and there was no need for additional material to be obtained as Advearse had claimed.

“If that information is applied to the policy set out in Part 12 of the NPPF, there can be only one realist outcome, namely a conclusion that the public benefits of the proposed development do outweigh the level of harm likely to occur either to the Conservation Area or the Toll House,” the judge said.

He added that section 31(2A) of the Senior Courts Act 1981 applied, meaning no relief should be granted as the decision would have been the same.

“Although Advearse succeeds on this part of its claim I do not grant any relief in respect of it.”

The judge also rejected claims that Dorset failed to take account of an amendment to the NPPF.

Mark Smulian

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