Hart Council have admitted they don’t know the cost of the Grove Farm appeal. They don’t know how much they spent on lawyers and consultants. They don’t cost the internal time costs of Hart Officers. Thankfully, there won’t be any loss of New Homes Bonus and the inspector did not award appellant costs against Hart.
Hart Council is very short of money, and the costs of this appeal must represent a significant proportion of Hart’s spending budget of £9m this year (see budget book p14). It is scandalous that they have no ability to track the costs of such large expenditures.
We warned back in December 2016 that the failure to determine the application would lead to an appeal and that Hart would likely lose the appeal.
It is still highly likely the developers will appeal the decision anyway because the officers recommended approval. Realistically, it is likely Hart would lose the appeal.
Apparently, the Overview and Scrutiny Committee won’t be looking into the decision to defend the Grove Farm appeal. Councillors apparently have no plans to forgo any of their allowance to help replenish public funds.
More worrying, Hart have no plan to avoid being a sitting duck in planning appeals between now and when the Local Plan is finally adopted.
Full questions and answers about Grove Farm appeal
Here is our list of questions and our recollection of the answers in red received at Council on Thursday (answers to be updated when the minutes are published):
Q1: It is of course a highly regrettable that the Grove Farm planning application was granted at appeal. However, given that officers recommended that planning permission be granted and the planning committee failed to make a determination on time, it is not unexpected that the appeal was allowed. Can you please set out the cost of defending the appeal including:
- External legal and consultant costs. A lot of words that amounted to “Don’t know”.
- Internal time costs of officers. Don’t identify internal costs.
- Any potential loss of New Homes Bonus. £0.
- Lost time on the Local Plan due to resources being diverted to defend the appeal. Don’t know.
- Appellant costs. £0.
Q2: Did the council receive legal advice on the chances of success in defending the appeal? In accordance with the Hart Code of Conduct objectives for openness and transparency, can you answer the following:
- What, in summary, did the advice say?
- Will you make the advice public?
- Was the provider of this legal advice the same organisation that helped defend the appeal?
- How much did the advice cost?
Answer: It’s a planning matter so we didn’t take legal advice on the chances of success
Q3: A recent joint Chief Executive statement said “In terms of the impact for planning across the District this appeal decision tells us little that is new. The Inspector used the same reasons that had previously been used by the Inspector at Moulsham Lane”. In accordance with the Code of Conduct statements about “Managing risks and performance through robust internal control and strong public financial management”, will the Overview and Scrutiny Committee be examining the decision to defend the Grove Farm appeal and making recommendations to avoid future waste of public funds?
Answer: Overview and Scrutiny only examine decisions from the Executive, not of committees, so no.
Supplementary: Will councillors and officers who made the decision to proceed with the appeal forego all or part of their allowance or bonus to show solidarity with hard pressed council taxpayers by helping to replenish public funds? No.
Q4: Given the saved policies have been ruled to be out of date twice now, what steps can the council take to avoid becoming a sitting duck in future planning decisions and appeals in advance of the Local Plan being adopted? Lots of words that amounted to “None”.