Court backs refusal of Devon holiday cottage conversion despite inspector's error

A High Court judge has refused to grant planning consent for the conversion of a Devon holiday cottage into a home, despite recognising that, in reaching a conclusion on the matter, a planning inspector had wrongly considered a local planning policy not relevant to the application.

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

Hawkern Cottage, which stands within the grounds of a large detached house in the village of Otterton, was converted from stable blocks in 1995, subject to a planning condition that it only be used as an annexe to the main building.

There were also requirements that it be used solely as holiday accommodation and that no individual or group should be permitted to stay there for more than four weeks at a time, Judge Mark Ockelton told the court in London.

The cottage's current owner, Clare Mills, sought planning permission to change its use to that of an all-year-round, self-contained, dwelling, but that was refused by East Devon District Council in February last year.

The council said the proposal would lead to an unacceptable loss of tourist accommodation in the seaside area and that its distance from services and facilities would render it an "unsustainable development in the countryside."

That decision was subsequently upheld by a planning inspector, but Mills appealed to the High Court against that outcome.

Ruling on her challenge, Judge Ockelton accepted that the inspector erred in focusing on a local policy which discouraged changes of use that would result in loss of tourist accommodation in nearby Exmouth, Budleigh Salterton, Seaton and Sidmouth.

On a correct reading of that policy, it only applied to those four tourist resorts and not to Otterton, which is "well outside" any of them.

The policy was thus not relevant to Mills' application.

However, the judge went on to rule that the inspector's error was not fatal to her ultimate decision.

Other planning objections to the proposal rendered inevitable her conclusion that the proposal did not accord with the local development plan.

Mills' challenge was dismissed and she was ordered to pay the £10,246 in legal costs run up the secretary of state for housing, communities and local government in defending the appeal.

Mills v Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government. Case Number: CO/5007/2018

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