Readers will recall the much-criticised decision of East Devon’s Development Management Committee (DMC) on 8 September, to approve the replacement of Pendeen, a bungalow on Castle Hill, with a block of flats. This reversed a majority decision in April to refuse a very similar proposal for the same site. Addressing the DMC as an objector, I urged it to ‘be consistent’ with its earlier decision.
The committee ignored this plea. Officers, whose advice to approve the application had been overruled in April, advised approval again, and some Councillors who had supported the application in April supported it again. This was not primarily because of the minor changes to the application; both appeared to disregard the actual decision. Indeed Councillor Alan Dent even responded directly to my ‘consistency’ appeal, saying that he was being consistent – but with his own earlier opinion, not the previous decision of the Council.
The apparent disregard of both officials and councillors of the previous decision of the Council raises serious concerns in the light of minute 30 of EDDC’s Audit and Governance Committee (19 November 2015), ‘Risk management review: half-year review’, which states:
“In the full risk register there was one risk currently scored as high:
“Failure of correct procedures and practices causing challenges to decisions – Impact: Serious, Likelihood: Very likely, Good scope for improvement.
“An aggrieved party had recently been given leave by the High Court to pursue a judicial review against a decision of the Council to grant permission for a dwelling on land adjoining their property. The case revolved around whether Members of Development Management Committee in making the decision were consistent in their approach with prior decisions on the same site for a similar form of development. Members of DMC had been briefed on this case and these issues would be picked up through future Members training sessions.”
The 6-week period in which Pendeen objectors could have applied for judicial review has unfortunately expired. However 3 questions remain:
- Were officers acting correctly in effectively recommending the reversal of the April decision?
- What was the date of the High Court hearing referred to in the minute? If it occurred before 8 September, officers should have brought it to the attention of the DMC when it made its new decision.
- Whether or not this was the case, surely on grounds of natural justice the Council itself should now re-examine the Pendeen approval in the light of this minute and the case referred to in it?
Consistency with prior decisions is also a big issue in the current application (15/2395/FUL) to build 3 houses in the garden of Pembroke House on Beer Road, as the objection lodged by Charlie Hopkins on behalf of myself and 9 other neighbours (on the planning portal) explains in detail. This will be a good test of whether the DMC can achieve the ‘improvement’ which the Audit and Governance Committee sees as necessary in planning decisions.
(Thanks to East Devon Watch for drawing attention to the minutes.)