Nimby council told to pay costs due to “unreasonable behaviour” over refusal of Travellers pitches

Plans for Travellers’ pitches were refused with “no evidence” to back up concerns, a planning inspector has ruled.

Maldon District Council faces having to pay legal costs due to its “unreasonable behaviour” when refusing the plans, a decision which was appealed by the applicant.

The successful appeal means land and buildings lying to the south of Maldon Road, Woodham Mortimer can be used for two Travellers’ pitches comprising the siting of one mobile home and one touring caravan per pitch.

Planning committee members refused the application despite a recommendation from officers that planning permission is granted.

In making her decision inspector Gemma Pannell disagreed with the planning committee’s decision in September 2022 that it should be refused due to a reliance on cars to get to services and shops.

She also disagreed that the Travellers’ pitch would harm the character and appearance of the area.

However, on further points she said the council provided no evidence to support their suggestion that the resultant noise levels arising from the development would result in undue harm to residential amenity.

She said there was no evidence to back up their concerns around outlook for neighbouring properties.

She said in her decision: “The first two reasons for refusal set out in the decision notice are complete, precise, specific and were relevant to the application. They also clearly state the policies that the proposal would be in conflict with.

“However, the third reason for refusal, which sets out that there would be undue harm to residential amenity by reason of resultant noise levels and loss outlook, was neither specific or precise and in particular, there was a lack of evidence provided as part of the appeal process to substantiate this reason for refusal.

“The council has failed to provide any evidence in relation to precise noise levels arising from the site during the time it was occupied. Furthermore, the Environmental Health officer representing the council at the hearing confirmed that there was no objection to the proposal. They could also only provide limited evidence of complaints that had been received and it was necessary to rely on anecdotal evidence from residents present at the hearing.

“In any event this evidence was all produced orally and was not available to the applicant before the hearing.

“In addition, the council could not provide any detailed evidence to support their concerns around outlook, seemingly unclear as to which properties should be considered as having a loss of outlook and not providing any specific evidence to substantiate their concerns.

“Particularly, given the officer’s recommendation was overturned at planning committee, the lack of an appeal statement meant that the applicant was disadvantaged in responding to the appeal, with the only evidence available to them being the brief minutes of that meeting.”

She said lodging the appeal, and in responding to the council’s reasons for refusal, the applicant has had to respond to the appeal with limited evidence from the council and a degree of uncertainty as to the substantive evidence available.

She added: “For reasons given above, unreasonable behaviour resulting in unnecessary or wasted expense has occurred and a partial award of costs is therefore warranted in respect of the costs arising from providing a defence to the council’s third reason for refusal relating to undue harm to residential amenity of the neighbouring occupiers, by reason of both noise and outlook.”

Councillor Adrian Fluker, who abstained on the decision at the time, said: “I am not surprised by the inspector’s decision as I agreed with officers all be it with a heavy heart, that whether we liked it or not there were no defendable reasons at appeal to oppose the application.

“This is a classic case of some members being swayed by passion and pressure rather than applying planning policy and with the costs decision going against the council the outcome of this appeal is now going to significantly burn the fingers of local tax payers.”

A spokesperson for the council said; “Maldon District Council, as a local planning authority is bound by cost decisions awarded as part of the planning appeals process by the planning inspectorate either in favour of the appellant, or the council where it is judged by a planning inspector that ‘unreasonable behaviour’ has occurred by either the council or the appellant.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter