Extant consent confirmed as relevant to decision

An Essex planning officer was entitled to give weight to an extant permission close to expiry in recommending a grant of permission to convert a rural building to a dwelling, the High Court has ruled.

The building had originally been used to store forestry equipment, then as a sawmill and joinery. In 2015, against the officer’s advice, the council’s planning committee granted consent for a residential conversion subject to a range of conditions, including a ban on demolition during certain months for ecological reasons. The applicant applied to renew the permission earlier this year.

A few days before the original permission was due to expire, the same officer recommended approval. He advised that the extant permission was a material consideration that should be given significant weight, even though the pre-commencement conditions on the 2015 permission effectively meant it could not be implemented before it expired. The decision was challenged by the claimant, who shared an access to the site.

Mr Justice Andrews held that the weight to be given to a material consideration is a matter for the decision-maker, citing South Oxfordshire District Council v Secretary of State for the Environment and Faherty Brothers Ltd [1981]. In his opinion, the council’s previous decision to grant permission for an identical scheme was a relevant factor of some weight, even though it was now able to demonstrate a five-year supply of housing land. This factor had been adequately taken into account in the decision-making process, he held.

Neither did the judge disagree with the officer’s conclusion that the site was previously developed, despite its former use for forestry. Those working in the sawmill had not been foresters, he remarked. While recognising that the scheme was contrary to some development plan policies, he was satisfied that the officer had identified material considerations that outweighed this conflict. The council’s decision was lawful, he concluded.

Bates v Maldon District Council

Date: 7 November 2018

Ref: [2018] 11 WLUK 110


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