Verdict on Vearse Farm judicial review

6 April 2020
PRESS RELEASE

ADVEARSE has, overall, lost its judicial review of West Dorset Council’s outline planning permission for what is believed to be the biggest ever development on a single area of outstanding natural beauty at Vearse Farm, Bridport.
In a written judgment issued on Monday 6 April, ADVEARSE was found to have won the legal argument on the first ground of their case — that the former West Dorset Council (since subsumed into the new unitary authority) had failed to have regard to statutory provisions and national
planning rules that require the harmful impact of the development on the conservation area and heritage assets to be assessed against the public benefits. The judge, Mr Justice Swift, said that ADVEARSE’s criticisms were ‘well-founded’ as the Council had not properly addressed the application of the relevant section of the National Planning Policy Framework, ‘a matter material to the decision the Council had to take.’ However, the judge said, ‘The role of the court is no more than to ensure that the decision and the decision-making process meet basic legal standards’, and because he believed the Council’s inadequacies may have made no difference to the committee’s ultimate decision, he had to rule against the claimants. The other two grounds of the case were rejected.
In court, ADVEARSE’s barrister, Matthew Henderson from Landmark Chambers, revealed defects and demonstrated that key objections and information from statutory experts, such as the conservation officer, the landscape officer and the AONB team, had been omitted from the officer’s report on which planning committee members had based their decision.
The judge said, ‘Planning issues are often controversial, all those affected by them deserve to be reassured that the officers’ reports that inform councillors’ decisions are sufficient to identify how any particular proposal is affected by specific statutory obligations … and by material policies’.
These reports, he said, ‘must meet some basic standards of good public administration’ and ‘basic level of coherence’. But, in a damning assessment, the judge said the West Dorset planning officer’s report did not meet the ‘bare minimum standard’. He likened it to a ‘jigsaw puzzle’ without a picture ‘on the front of the box.’
Further, the Council officer had made assumptions and speculations about the mitigation of any harmful impact of the Vearse Farm development which the judge regarded to be ‘optimistic’, ‘not realistic’, and which could not possibly be determined until later in the detailed planning process.
This, he stated, was ‘an incorrect approach.’
The report was, however, found to be ‘sufficient’ in terms of the remaining two grounds of the case which referred to failure to take into account other relevant aspects of the National Planning Policy Framework.
Stephanie Hill from ADVEARSE’s legal team said, ‘It is frustrating for our clients to have demonstrated that the Council’s decision-making was legally flawed, but still to have lost the challenge. The impact of the development will have to be given more detailed consideration as the planning application progresses, and this judgment emphasises the importance of good quality, reasoned decision-making throughout that process.’
ADVEARSE Chairman Barry Bates said, ‘After fighting tooth and nail we have been let down at every stage of the planning process. The JR was a last-ditch attempt to stop, or at best delay, this development. We are bitterly disappointed but accept that the courts are limited to looking at the legality of the process rather than the political or moral rights or wrongs of the case.’ ‘However,’ he said, ‘the old West Dorset planning authority came out of the affair badly and we hope that lessons have been learned, particularly now that we have a different council and are living in a different global and economic context.’
Bridport town councillor and ADVEARSE member Sarah Carney said, ‘There needs to be a review of national planning policy which forces rural councils to meet metro-centric housing targets which fail to deliver for local people and deliberately encourage private developers to build thousands of
unsuitable, unsustainable and unaffordable houses all over our countryside.’
ADVEARSE member and former district councillor David Tett, said ‘Vearse Farm houses will not be affordable to local families or keyworkers. They will, however, attract retirees from the big cities and second-home owners, resulting in more traffic and unbearable pressure on our already desperately over-stretched health and social care services.’
ADVEARSE spokesman Lewis Gerolemou said, however, that ‘Vearse Farm is far from done and dusted. It remains our view and that of our supporters that there are serious problems with the plans which will need to be addressed before any houses are built. The developers can rest assured that they will face intense scrutiny and challenge at the detailed planning stages and at any point should they fail to deliver what has been promised in the S106 agreement.’
The Chairman of Dorset CPRE Peter Bowyer said, ‘This outcome is very disappointing. It is clear that the planning authority in Dorset has little respect for the designation of the AONB. Dorset deserves to have a better planning service for the area. The fundamental questions of the right
numbers of houses, the right places and the right tenures are not being addressed within the current planning system. Alternative community-driven approaches are necessary in order to ensure that the incremental urbanisation of Dorset is not allowed to proceed.’
‘We now need the Dorset AONB to be upgraded to a National park. This would have the responsibility and resources to conserve and embrace our wonderful landscapes while also having the duty to respond proactively to local housing needs and so develop the local housing that local people need.’
ADVEARSE Treasurer, Phil Summerton, said, ‘We would like to thank our wonderful lawyers, Leigh Day, Landmark Chambers and our barrister Matthew Henderson for all their help and support. A big thanks also to the Dorset Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) who donated £10,000 to the cause, and tremendous thanks to the hundreds of people who have supported us over the past six years and who contributed towards the £34,000 that made it possible for the judicial review to go ahead’.

Further information
The full written judgment can be found here:
https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2020/807.html
Information about ADVEARSE can be found at: http://www.advearse.org.uk/about-advearse/
Email: [email protected]
Facebook: www.facebook.com/ADVEARSE/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/advearse
Crowdfunder: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/save-west-dorset-aonb
Vearse Farm development planning application: WD/D/17/000986
https://planning.dorset.gov.uk/onlineapplications/
applicationDetails.do?keyVal=DCAPR_132168&activeTab=summary

One thought on “Verdict on Vearse Farm judicial review”

  1. How devastating this verdict is. The good people of Dorset who love this part of the countryside for its beauty and its history have been thwarted in their desire to protect what they love. It seems once again that the dead hand of developers will blight this beautiful piece of England.

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