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Planning decisions would be unpredictable and merely arbitrary if they were not based on carefully considered policies that have been subjected to public scrutiny. The High Court made that point in scotching £1.8 million plans for the expansion of a seaside holiday park.
The owner of the park wished to extend the established business into a nearby field, providing additional space for static caravans and holiday lodges. The local authority approved the development on the strength of a planning officer's report that it would have only a localised impact on the surrounding Area of Great Landscape Value (AGLV) and that that impact would be moderate or slight.
In upholding a local objector's judicial review challenge to the permission, however, the Court noted that the report made no mention of a local development plan policy which stated that planning permission would not be granted for any development that harmed the landscape, features and characteristics of the AGLV.
The policy had been in place since 2001, and the area had changed significantly in the interim, but the Court rejected arguments that it was out of date. It had been deliberately saved as part of the development plan as recently as 2016. Although it did not specifically ban all development in the AGLV, it was in mandatory terms and prohibited any proposals that would be harmful.
The officer had weighed the disadvantages of the project against its benefits – which included a seven-figure inward investment and a valuable boost to tourism and local employment – but had taken no account of the special requirements that had to be met before development within the AGLV could be permitted.
Due to the deficiencies in the officer's report, councillors who granted the planning permission had not appreciated that they were making a decision that did not accord with the development plan. The permission was quashed.