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In July last year the Huntingdonshire District Council refused D Davey & Sons Ltd planning permission to convert four office suites at 31a St Neots Road, Eaton Ford, St Neots to 2 x 1-bed and 2 x 2-bed flats.  Despite the fact the suites had stood empty for some considerable time and that there were other vacant office suites on the site, the Council refused planning permission on the grounds of loss of employment premises.  The Council also refused planning permission on the grounds that the proposed parking arrangements would result in an unsatisfactory living environment.

D Davey & Sons were represented by Barford + Co, the St Neots based Chartered Surveyors and Planning Consultants, who challenged the Council to reconsider its objections in the circumstances that the policy it relied on was not part of its development plan and furthermore its stance was inconsistent with the National Planning Policy Framework, drawing attention to inconsistency with other developments the Council had allowed.  After reconsideration the Council agreed not to pursue its second refusal reason relating to an unsatisfactory living environment, but nevertheless maintained its objection on the grounds of loss of employment premises. 

Barford + Co subsequently submitted an appeal and after consideration the Planning Inspector has allowed the appeal granting planning permission for the conversion.  In addition the Inspector has agreed with the case put forward by Barford + Co that the Council’s actions were unreasonable and made a full award of costs against the Council in respect of the expense incurred by D Davey & Sons Ltd for having to pursue the appeal.

In the opinion of the Inspector the Council’s refusal based on a draft policy within a plan it was no longer pursuing was seriously flawed and it failed to properly consider how much weight it should be given.  Due to the excessive weight given to the draft policy the Council had acted unreasonably.  Furthermore he agreed the decision did not reflect the National Planning Policy Framework and had the Council applied the approach set out in the Framework the only reasonable conclusion it could have come to would have been a presumption in favour. The failure to properly apply the presumption was in his opinion further unreasonable behaviour.

The Inspector commended the Council for having quickly withdrawn its second refusal reason when its inconsistencies where drawn to its attention, but this was something the Council should already have been aware of and the original decision was therefore unreasonable.

In all circumstances the Inspector considered the Council had acted unreasonably and it had prevented development that could reasonably have been allowed.

Martin Page the Planning Director for Barford + Co commented ‘The costs decision emphasises the need for Councils to adopt a more positive attitude towards development proposals and follow the guidance in the National Planning Policy Framework to look for solutions, rather than problems. It is unfortunate that outcomes like this are necessary to drive the message home’. 

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