Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Successful fight to stop housing cost taxpayers £50,000

THE successful campaign to prevent 245 homes from being built on farmland near Emmer Green cost taxpayers more than £50,000.

Gladman Homes gave up its plans to develop three fields between Kiln Road and Peppard Road after losing an appeal against South Oxfordshire District Council’s refusal of planning permission and being denied a High Court hearing to overturn it.

The district council spent £43,800 on hiring barrister Robin Green to defend the appeal and cannot reclaim these costs even though planning inspector Nick Palmer found in its favour.

He accepted its argument that the development would harm views of the countryside and neighbouring Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

The council paid another £1,500 for legal advice when Gladman filed its High Court action against the Government, arguing that Mr Green had failed to consider increased demand for housing across South Oxfordshire. The Hon Mrs Justice Lang ruled that the company didn’t have a case.

Four parish councils paid a total of £7,500 to the Campaign Against Gladman in Eye and Dunsden, which hired barrister John Fitzsimmons to argue its case at the appeal hearing held at Henley Rugby Club last year.

These included Eye and Dunsden, where the site is located, and Kidmore End, which both paid £1,500, Sonning Common (£4,000) and Binfield Heath (£500).

The campaign’s remaining costs were met by donations of more than £10,000 from residents, including £500 from Caversham and District Residents’ Association, which feared the development would place excessive pressure on local amenities such as roads, schools and GP surgeries.

David Woodward, chairman of both Eye and Dunsden Parish Council and CAGE, claimed it was unfair that the councils couldn’t claim back their costs after winning.

He said CAGE’s costs would have doubled without the efforts of many volunteers and the agreement by landscaping and transport consultants Bettina Kirkham, from Kidmore End, and Paul Matthews, from Caversham, to reduce their fees.

Councillor Woodward said: “We should be thankful that this didn’t go to the High Court. That saved the district council from putting up more money, although it would have got this back if it won.

“Developers should have the right in principle to appeal any decision they believe is unfair but, given that the Government is putting so much pressure on local authorities to take new housing, they should be indemnified against the consequences of that obsession.

“Gladman is a vast company with enormous resources at its disposal and has an unfair advantage against hard-pressed councils. At any time, they’re probably pursuing dozens of cases just like this.

“We benefited from a huge amount of work by our dedicated volunteers and were very lucky to have those resources to hand, which not every community does.

“People of all ages opposed this scheme and the biggest contributions came not from the Oxfordshire parishes but Emmer Green, where there were serious concerns about the impact. We hired a junior barrister as it’s all we could afford and while we’d prefer not to have spent that money, we did it for the good of the community.

“Sadly, this could be repeated as there are two or three other sites in the parish which could take even more housing.”

Sonning Common district councillor Paul Harrison, whose ward includes Eye and Dunsden, said: “If we reject an application and lose the appeal we have to pay the costs so it’s an uneven playing field and councils should be able to get their money back.

“It was very fortunate that we reviewed our housing land supply shortly before the inquiry as this proved conclusively that we had enough. If we hadn’t done that, we wouldn’t have had a hope in hell’s chance of winning.”

Sonning Common parish councillor Tom Fort has criticised Gladman and the Phillimore estate, which owns the land, for failing to meet the public costs.

He said: “One of the many iniquities of the planning system is that developers can appeal against planning decisions on the flimsiest grounds, engineer an appeal and lose it but bear none of the other side’s costs.”

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