My letter last month (20.10.16, p36) suggested how Horsham District Council’s (HDC) planning function has lurched from crisis to crisis.
In that letter amongst the litany of problems I raised (North Horsham, loss of the High Court case regarding Henfield’s Neighbourhood Plan, the planning application for an incinerator next to the proposed junior school in Horsham) was the matter of adverse planning costs facing the Horsham district tax payer for lost planning appeals.
Last week, after a year of regularly raising this issue in these pages, came the confirmation that HDC’s planning department is the seventh worst for adverse appeals in a list compiled from Freedom of Information requests (FoIs) by Daniel Watney LLP from the 418 principal local authorities as reported in the journal The Planner (www.theplanner.co.uk/news/£12m-paid-out-by-councils-after-losing-planning-appeals-research) and WSCT (p34).
It was leader Cllr Dawe who in exercising his judgement entrusted Cllr Vickers with heading up the council’s planning department in May 2013. At one stage Horsham District Council’s planning department was amongst the best in the country. No longer.
For over a year I have been writing to ascertain why the planning department has such high adverse planning appeal costs. An officer’s report to Finance & Performance Working Group last year stated: ‘There have been a high number of difficult appeals and this has added to the costs for the department as a whole due to the time involved in discussing and settling legal fees, expert witness fees and costs awarded against the Council in a number of cases where Inspectors concluded that we acted unreasonably in refusing permission.’ (Combined Finance and Performance Annual Summary 2014/15, p13 www.horsham.gov.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0018/23625/Final-combined-report_year-end_2014.pdf).
Cllr Vickers never did answer the question that I raised back then in 2015 or a few weeks ago: ‘why is her planning department acting in a way that has led Inspectors to conclude that her planning department ‘acted unreasonably in refusing permission?’ (22.10.15 and 20.10.16, p36).
Cllr Vickers’ planning department, on her watch, now ranks as the seventh highest authority for paying out the highest total sum in costs. HDC paid out £442,969 between 2010/11 and 2015/16. HDC’s highest average per lost appeal is reported to be £63,281.29
These costs are coming from the local planning authority budget and with HDC looking for cuts the tax payer simply cannot afford this. After over a year of asking what Cllr Vickers is going to do about this problem it really is time Cllr Dawe sorted out this disgraceful situation.
Our district is the 7th worst in a UK wide FOI survey – and we the rate payers are footing the bill.
Dr Geoffrey Richardson
Tennyson Close, Horsham
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