SSDC climbs down on Mudford

Last week we reported on SSDC taking another look at the Mudford planning decision. Since then a number of readers have been in touch asking about the detail. We thought a couple of verbatim quotes from the letter would illustrate the point. The revised piece is as follows:

In October Mudford Parish Council issued a letter prior to Judicial Review to South Somerset District Council. That reflected how strongly the Parish Council felt about plans to flood the parish with 750 new homes. The proposed site had traces of anthrax on it, but this had been dismissed as not relevant by the planners.

More to the point, the letter to SSDC alleges multiple failings in the planning approval process. These include allegations of misleading councillors, making material omissions of facts and misinterpreting planning policy. To be more precise the letter includes comments that:

The Proposed Claimant considers that the consideration of the applications was unlawful because the Officer’s Reports (OR) on the applications misinterpreted policy YV2 and omitted to consider material matters in respect of the landscape and visual impacts of the proposals.“

and again

The OR (Officer Reports) misled members on these issues. First, the list of “Special Landscape Guidelines” at paragraph 5.2 of the OR is not a complete or accurate summary of paragraph 6.32 of the Local Plan supporting text. That was a material and misleading omission in its own right.“

The letter goes on to note “For all of those reasons, members were misled in being advised that the relevant
prescriptions were achieved.

Whilst this is couched in legal and technical language, there is no doubt as to what is being alleged. The letter suggests that if the process is not revisited, Mudford will move to ask for Judicial Review. This would shine a light on the whole process by which SSDC approve planning applications. It would look into the way the Regulation Committee interacts with Area Committees. It would look into the processes, procedures, advice and actions of the planners. It would force the council to justify very specific aspects of the decision.

Of course this does not mean that the contents of the letter issued by Mudford Parish Council are proven. They remain as allegations. They are items subject to debate and further investigation. However many residents of South Somerset have been watching this case with interest. A Judicial Review would certainly open up aspects of the planning process to scrutiny.

The Leveller® understands that following receipt of this letter, SSDC has climbed down. The council now states that it is minded to send the decision back to committee to reconsider the decision. The council has also written to the developer, Abbey Manor Group advising them of the decision.

Of course the council may reconsider and come up with the same answer. However it now has some very specific issues to address. And if it fails to do so, the Judicial Review process could still proceed.

But for now Mudford Parish Council have a lot to be pleased about. Important questions will have to be answered and addressed. Whether at a new planning committee meeting or later in a Judicial Review. And that must be a good thing. Both for the reputation of the council, and the reassurance of its taxpayers.

But Mudford Parish Council are not alone. Time will tell if other parishes now feel emboldened to take SSDC to task over their planning decisions.

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