High Court overturns inspector's 'irrational' 100-home refusal

A developer has successfully overturned a planning inspector's decision to refuse its plans for a 100-home development in a former quarry, after a High Court judge concluded that elements of the inspector's decision were "irrational" and "illogical".

London's Royal Courts of Justice
London's Royal Courts of Justice

The Plas Gwilym Quarry, at Old Colwyn on the North Wales coast, covers almost 11 acres, and is being targeted for development by developer Renew Land Developments Ltd.

The project has the support of social housing provider, Cartrefi Conwy Cyf, but planning permission was refused by Conwy County Borough Council.

After a public inquiry, planning inspector Kay Sheffield backed the council's decision in August last year.

But Renew Land took the case to the High Court - where Judge Andrew Keyser QC has now breathed new life into the housing plans.

The inspector's conclusion that the project would lead to an unacceptable loss of public open space made "no practical sense", he ruled.

Much of a planning officer's report, on which the council based its decision, was "favourable" to Renew Land's proposals.

It pointed to a shortfall in the area's supply of housing land and to the benefits of providing a large number of new homes, some of them affordable.

But the officer expressed concern that the development would lead to the loss of about two acres of open space used by locals for ball games and informal play.

The development would also make "inadequate … provision for play space" for children, the officer stated, recommending that planning permission be refused.

The council followed that recommendation and the inspector agreed, saying the benefits of the scheme did not outweigh the loss of open space.

Challenging the decision, Renew Land's lawyers said the company had given a formal undertaking that the development would include a childrens' play area.

The company also pointed out that the two-acre open space is owned by Cartrefi Conwy, who could fence it off to the public whenever it wished.

Overturning the inspector's decision, Judge Keyser said there was no formal agreement that Cartrefi Conwy would keep the two acres open for public recreation.

"It was not a public open space because the landowner could exclude the public from it at will," he told the court in Mold.

It was therefore "an error of law and also irrational" of the inspector to find that a local planning policy designed to preserve public open spaces was engaged.

"If (Cartrefi Conwy) were able to fence the land and were intent on doing so, it makes no practical sense to say that the development would involve the loss of a public open space."

The "illogicality" of the inspector's decision in that respect meant Renew Land's challenge was "unanswerable", the judge ruled.

Renew Land had also been given no opportunity to respond to "visual amenity" objections to the development and the procedure followed was "materially unfair", he added.

The judge concluded: "I shall accordingly quash the inspector's decision."

The ruling means that Renew Land is entitled to appeal afresh to the Welsh Ministers against the refusal of planning permission.

Last week, a High Court judge rejected a legal challenge against a council's decision to grant planning permission for the conversion of a pub into a house and 24 flats, dismissing claims that members had misinterpreted a local planning policy aiming to protect community facilities.

Also last week, a High Court judge overturned a consent for a London homeowner's roof terrace after concluding that a planning officer's report on the application failed to have regard to the impact on a neighbour of "significant and disturbing vibrations" arising from the development.

R on the Application of Renew Land Developments Limited v The Welsh Ministers. Case Number: CO/3912/2018


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