Policy confusion leads to full costs award to appellant

A housebuilder in west Sussex has succeeded in securing permission for approximately 75 dwellings on the edge of a settlement, with an inspector ruling that a full award of costs should be made against the council.

It was accepted that there was less than four years' supply of housing land and planning officers had recommended permission be granted on three occasions. Nonetheless, the council asserted that the scheme would have a detrimental impact on the quality of the landscape and the setting of a listed cottage. In response the appellant relied on a supplementary planning document which aimed to facilitate housing development and against which the site complied with 15 out of 18 selection criteria.

Development of the site would clearly cause harm to the landscape character but the issue was the extent of the harm, the inspector ruled. Although the council alleged that development would occur too far up the site and impinge on views of the South Downs, the highest parts of the land would not be built upon and it would give a more defensible boundary to the existing built-up area. In his opinion the indicative layout had taken into account the design opportunities available and it could not be said to have failed to protect the landscape and townscape character of the settlement.

The appellant was justified in seeking a full award of costs. The officers had given clear advice that there was no adverse impact to the landscape and in considering the application at various committees elected members had not raised this as a substantive objection. Nonetheless, it appeared that a policy had been included in the reason for refusal which referred to adverse impact on the landscape and townscape setting when in reality the committee had been referring to a more general development control policy which sought to limit development in the countryside. This error had not been corrected and it was therefore unreasonable for the council to have refused it on landscape grounds when the committee members did not have this issue in mind.

Inspector: John Gray; Inquiry

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