What lies behind dramatic increase in planning appeal costs for Cornwall Council? article banner image

The local press has been reporting a substantial increase in the costs that Cornwall Council has had to pay out for planning appeals. This has increased from £50,000 in 2013 to over £400,000 for the current financial year. The increase is dramatic and it is useful to understand some of the issues that may have played a part in it.

Chris Tofts - preferred

The general rule in planning appeals is that each party pays their own costs. Only where there has been an application for costs and a party has acted unreasonably will the Planning Inspector award costs against one side. Therefor the increase of awards in costs against the Council is because the Planning Inspector has found some of its decisions to be unreasonable.

There are many things which could have contributed to this increase. Situations where the planning committee has made a decision against the advice of Planning Officers, or where reasons of refusal were not backed up by evidence could be argued to be unreasonable. A Local Plan for Cornwall is in development, but the lack of the plan over the last year may have meant that decisions were determined by reference to the National Planning Policy Framework, which may not fit in with local needs.

Another interesting issue is the issue of localism, which received a lot of coverage when introduced at the start of this parliament. My view is that it still does not have the teeth that some hoped it would, requiring a Neighbourhood Development Plan which is sufficiently advanced.

There is a significant delay between the Council’s decision on the planning application and the determination of costs. An appeal generally has to be made within six months and then typically an appeal might take a further six months to be determined. The costs then have to be agreed between the parties, taking another month or two. So even now, we are only looking at the results of planning decisions made over a year ago. There is another year or so of decisions on which we do not have any information, but those decisions are now “baked-in”. This means that the bill for planning appeal costs against the Council could well increase further.

Chris Tofts is a senior associate in the planning team at Stephens Scown LLP in Truro. He can be contacted on 01872 265100, by email to planning@stephens-scown.co.uk.