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Failure by council to give reasons sees judge quash planning permission for home in area of outstanding natural beauty

The High Court has quashed planning permission granted by Cornwall Council for a home in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty also designated as a heritage coast.

Chris Wilton, who was an interested party in the case brought by local resident Malcolm Cross, wanted to build ‘a detached two storey agricultural dwelling with garage and parking’ at Rame Head.

Mrs Justice Tipples said the building would have contained four bedrooms, an open plan kitchen, dining and living space and a large wraparound balcony.

Mr Wilton argued that the accommodation was needed for his family as it was adjacent to a rented farm where his forebears had been tenant farmers for 200 years.

But Mr Cross objected because of concerns about the impact of what he considered unsuitable development on the preservation of Rame Head because of its natural beauty, rare wildlife and history.

He challenged Cornwall’s decision on the grounds that it failed to give reasons for its decision to depart from the recommendations in the officer's report - in particular with regard to the impact on the AONB - and that it failed to determine whether or not the proposed development accorded with the development plan.

Cornwall argued that there was no statutory duty on it to give reasons, and that the planning committee did not misinterpret or fail to apply any of the applicable policies but fully understood the impact on the landscape and simply reached a different view to the AONB officer.

In Cross, R (On the Application Of) v Cornwall Council [2021] EWHC 1323 (Admin) Tipples J said it was well established that although there was no statutory duty on local planning authorities to give reasons for planning permission, in certain circumstances there was a common law duty to do so.

Mr Cross submitted this was such a case because the committee granted planning permission in a highly sensitive area, contrary to strong advice from the planning officer and the AONB officer, and in the face of substantial public opposition.

Cornwall said these circumstances did not give rise to the common law duty and that was no significant departure from the development plan.

Tipples J said the resolution passed gave no reasons why the committee departed from the planning officer's recommendation and there was “no adequate explanation of the decision to grant planning permission”.

She said: “It is not possible to tell whether the committee thought the harm caused by the proposed development was, contrary to the advice of the planning officer, minimal.”

Tipples J added: “One is completely in the dark as to why the committee thought the social and economic benefits of the proposed development outweighed the landscape harm. No reasons at all are provided.”

Minutes of the meeting merely stated: “The agricultural justification and need for a workers dwelling is considered to outweigh the harm to the landscape and scenic beauty of the Cornwall [AONB]".

The judge said: “That statement is simply a conclusion and does not articulate any planning reasons which led to that conclusion.

“There is no explanation which identifies the reasons why the proposed development justified damaging the AONB, an area which enjoys the highest level of landscape protection.”

She held this ground was therefore made out and also decided that Cornwall had failed to determine how far Mr Wilton’s proposed development accorded with the development plan.

The judge rejected a point raised by Cornwall and Mr Wilton that Mr Cross’s challenge was purely technical as he had not suffered any prejudice.

“This is a case where the defects in reasons go to the heart of the justification for permission and undermine its validity,” Tipples J said.

“Further, [Mr Cross] filed a detailed objection to the application, and the nature of the proposed development in the AONB was of wider public interest. In these circumstances the only appropriate remedy is to quash the council's decision granting permission and I grant the claimant the relief sought.”

Mark Smulian