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Planning Court judge rejects claim report misled committee members

An officer’s report to a planning committee did not mislead members when it failed to mention that Mid Sussex District Council could no longer require a local landowner to sell it a site, the High Court has said.

In Whitehead (On Behalf of the Copthorne Village Association), R (On the Application Of) v Mid Sussex District Council [2020] EWHC 3166  Mrs Justice Elisabeth Laing dismissed a case brought by resident Kerry Whitehead on behalf of Copthorne Village Association.

The association had applied for judicial review of Mid Sussex’s decision to grant outline planning permission to developer Gleeson Strategic Land for 500 homes, a primary school and community building in Hassocks.

This included a condition that Gleeson would contribute £750,000 towards a site for gypsy and traveller pitches in Copthorne.

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The association argued that the relevant officers' report misdirected the planning committee by using the constraints of the site to justify the provision of pitches at Copthorne instead of on the site at Hassocks.

Mid Sussex’s control over the Copthorne site had lapsed in December 2019, before the officers’ report was prepared.

The association did not at that stage know whether or not officers knew of the site’s changed status when they wrote their report.

Laing J said in her judgment: “I do not consider that a reasonable officer was required to investigate, or to tell the committee about, the details of the arrangement for securing the Copthorne site, such as the terms of the contract between [the council] and [landowner] Mrs Heal.”

Negotiations between the council and Mrs Heal had established that the land could still be used for pitches and “the fact that the council did not own the land would not be a barrier to the provision of the pitches if a further application for planning permission were made, and that a further application was being prepared”.

She said the report was not required to explain the detailed legal position and the fact that Mid Sussex could no longer require Mrs Heal to sell it the site “was no reason for officers reasonably to judge, or to tell the committee, that the council was no longer confident that the project would deliver some pitches”.

Mark Smulian

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