Cheshire West & Chester Council has revealed that it spent more than £1.2m fighting appeals relating to new housing applications going back to the start of 2012.
In a report to the strategic planning committee on the 20 March entitled Planning appeals – adverse costs and awards, the council showed it spent £1,156,014 fighting planning appeals across nine projects. This figure includes the cost of preparing the appeal, including man hours, but is mainly formed of the payment of appellant costs where the Council was deemed to have acted unreasonably in bringing the appeal.
The report also noted that the council is currently engaged in a further three matters where it will eventually be exposed to adverse costs.
The applications concerned the construction of 1,635 residential units over seven sites, in addition to 85 student apartments and the construction of one dwelling for an agricultural worker. In all cases, the council lost the appeal.
The largest payout involved an application to build 650 homes at a site in Hartford put forward by Harrow Estates, in which the council was forced to pay £410,000 of costs in addition to £61,000 spent preparing the appeal. The council also spent £235,518 fighting an application from Peel for 300 homes at the former British Gas site in Ellesmere Port, and £178,414 against an application from Richborough Estates for 148 homes at Beehive Lane in Moulton.
According to the old Regional Spatial Strategy targets, still being used in the borough while the Local Plan is prepared by the council, there needs to be 1,317 homes built per year in order to meet the housing needs of the sub-region.
Cllr Mike Jones, leader of Cheshire West & Chester Council, said: "Our planning officers can only make recommendations based within current planning policies and guidance.
"There is little flexibility for them to reflect the views of the local community if the grounds for opposition fall outside these parameters.
"Sadly, the reality of the situation is that council support for members at appeal has been heavily and in my view unfairly punished financially… in some respects, the heavy price of democracy.
"The way to address this situation is by putting in place an up-to-date Local Plan – and that's exactly what the Council is doing. Our Local Plan is now at its final examination stage and we hope to be in a position to adopt it late summer."
Dan Mitchell, partner at planning advisor Barton Willmore in Manchester, said: "The National Planning Policy Framework was introduced in April 2012 and requires local authorities to significantly boost delivery of housing across the board. While we recognise increasing housing can be difficult, the Government position is in favour of sustainable development.
"Sites on the edge of settlements in Cheshire not constrained by the green belt are naturally the focus for developers. We recognise the council is preparing its local plan, but we cannot stall delivery while we wait for it."