Judge upholds district council’s planning approval for Cloakham Lawns housing scheme

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A legal challenge to planning permission granted to Axminster Carpets for a massive housing development at the town’s Cloakham Lawns has been dismissed by a High Court Judge.

The ruling means that the consent granted by East Devon District Council (EDDC) in March 2011 was lawful and the developers can now proceed with their plans to build up to 400 homes, of which 40 per cent will be affordable.

The group who brought the Judicial Review into the council’s decision – Save Our Parkland Appeal Ltd (SOP) – must pay £10,000 towards EDDC’s costs for successfully defending the review. Their liability is limited through a Protected Costs Order, so any remaining costs, as yet not finalised, must be borne by the council tax payers of East Devon.

Commenting on the successful outcome for EDDC, Councillor Mark Williamson, Chairman of the Development Management (planning) Committee, said: “It is right that the democratic process should be followed, because the public have a right to challenge decisions if they feel they are flawed.

“In this case, the council’s action has been held up to intense legal scrutiny and has been found to be completely sound. That not only vindicates our decision but is good news in the sense that it enables much-needed housing – especially affordable homes – to be built at the eastern end of the district.”

The case turned on whether the council was right to grant planning permission for the 400 homes at a time when its existing Local Plan was in the process of being replaced by a new plan that would form part of the Local Development Framework (LDF) and whether the council gave too much weight to its emerging planning policy document.

The LDF has since reverted to the original name of Local Plan, but the new planning policy document is still in draft form and may not be adopted until 2014. The new Draft Local Plan does show a significant housing allocation in the Cloakham Lawns area of Axminster and this was already proposed when the application was considered in 2011.

However, SOP maintained that it was premature for EDDC to permit the Cloakham Lawns development because at the time of the committee decision a preferred options document was being consulted upon.

His Honour Judge Sycamore disagreed and ruled that the council had acted correctly in having one eye on the proposed allocation when it considered the application. The Judge also upheld the actions of the planning officer who recommended to councillors on the development management committee that they should grant permission.

Quoting case law in his judgment report, HH Judge Sycamore said: “If there is one principle of planning law more firmly settled than any other, it is that matters of planning judgment are within the exclusive province of the local planning authority or the Secretary of State”.

He continued: “A claim for Judicial Review will not normally merit consideration unless the overall effect of the (planning officer’s) report is to significantly mislead the committee about material matters. The author of the report is entitled to assume a knowledgeable readership and that members have particular knowledge of both the planning policy context and the local area”.

HH Judge Sycamore concluded: “Neither of the grounds of claim establishes any error of law on the part of the defendant (EDDC) in granting the outline planning permission. Accordingly, the claim is dismissed”.

Councillor Williamson added: “This ruling not only settles the future of an important development site in Axminster; it also demonstrates that the council is correct in dealing with planning applications whilst the new Local Plan is still being worked on, rather than delaying progress with vital homes until the Local Plan has been signed off.

“This ties in with the very strong guidance we are getting from central government that the housing drought has to end and that planning authorities should say yes to sustainable development”.

* SOP have indicated that they are seeking leave to appeal against the judgment.

Spokesman Paul Arnott told The Herald: “It’s disappointing but not the end.”

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