More than £50,000 spent on planning consultants’ fees by council

JPCT 17-08-12 S12330140X Horsham, Horsham District Council, office building, HDC -photo by Steve Cobb ENGSUS00120120817141105

JPCT 17-08-12 S12330140X Horsham, Horsham District Council, office building, HDC -photo by Steve Cobb ENGSUS00120120817141105

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More than £50,000 was spent on planning consultants’ fees to defend the council during examination hearings on its local housing plan last year.

Over a period of three weeks in November the planning inspector scrutinised Horsham District Council’s local plan with outside consultants and planning officers representing the authority’s position over nine separate days.

But as revealed in a Freedom of Information (FoI) request seen by the County Times at least £52,000 was spent on planning consultants, with two experts earning more than £33,000 between them.

The most was paid to Christopher Katkowski QC, of Landmark Chambers, who charged £18,500 plus VAT for legal advice on just three separate days.

According to Landmark Chambers’ website Mr Katkowski is ‘consistently recognised in UK legal directories and in Planning Magazine’s annual survey of planning lawyers as one of the foremost leaders in planning and environment work in the country’.

A spokesperson for Horsham District Council said: “The majority of the total money spent on consultants during the Horsham District Planning Framework examination hearings was as a result of legal advice and representation.

“These arrangements were made to ensure that the council was not placed at a disadvantage during the examination hearing sessions when other participants were using legal representation. Other consultants were used to support the council in responding to the inspector’s questions at the examination hearings.

“These specialist advisers spoke for the council as part of its team in answering the inspector’s questions on technical areas of work they had previously undertaken such as housing and employment.

“The council had over 20 other individuals who formed part of its team over the period of the examination hearings, many of whom gave evidence as an expert witness, including representatives of the local community and officers from adjoining authorities and West Sussex County Council.

“All of this time was given free of charge.”

Meanwhile the FoI also states that Simon Pickles, also of Landmark Chambers received £7,300 plus VAT for legal advice on two days.

Nick Ireland, of GL Hearn, was paid £7,650 plus VAT for advice on Horsham’s Locally Generated Needs on two days, while Brian Wood of WS Planning cost £4,000 for advice on gypsy, traveller and travelling showpeople for one day, as well as planning policy support prior to the examination hearings.

Lastly Matthew Bright, of David Huskisson Associates, received £14,563.49 for specialist landscape advice on three days, with his fee including input into the council’s statements before the examination.

Reacting to the news Horsham resident Geoffrey Richardson said: “Residents were aghast that Horsham District Council (HDC) instructed the country’s leading planning QC to fight its own residents in order for Cllr Vickers’s to try to get her housing plan pushed through the planning inspection.

“This of course only benefited the councillors south of the district where no houses have been allocated. Even the proposed crematorium has been moved from the south of the district on the A272 into north Horsham.”

Planning inspector Geoff Salter produced an interim report on the plan just before Christmas, which told the council to put its housing target by at least 2,000 homes.

Last week Claire Vickers (Con, Southwater), HDC’s cabinet member for living and working communities, told the County Times they would be looking to make a final decision on where the extra new homes would go by March this year.