Judge finds in favour of Thurston Parish Council vs Mid Suffolk District Council

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Following a two-day hearing at the High Court in October, a Court has now issued a decision in favour of Thurston Parish Council in their case against Mid Suffolk District Council’s planning consent for land south of Beyton Road in Thurston.

The planning application

A planning application was made by Bloor Homes in 2019 for the construction of 210 houses and associated infrastructure in the small village on Thurston. Prior to this, Thurston Parish Council had recently adopted a Neighbourhood Plan and the particular site had not been included within the development limits that had been set by the Neighbourhood Plan (which took account of five existing planning permissions for circa 927 additional houses). Mid Suffolk District Council sought to justify the granting of planning permission on the basis of an initial draft of its Local Plan that was subject to numerous objections and was at least two versions away from being submitted to the Planning Inspectorate for consideration as to its soundness.

Court case and findings

The Parish Council alleged that the Mid Suffolk Planning Committee was misled by the advice it had been given concerning the weight that should be given to the Neighbourhood Plan and whether or not the proposal by Bloors was contrary to it. Further, Mid Suffolk District Council sought to rely on what is called the “tilted balance” to justify the grant of permission. Thurston challenged reliance on the tilted balance on the basis that because of the misdirection the committee took account of incorrect planning considerations.

The judge found in favour of Thurston District Council on both points and has ordered that the planning permission be quashed and sent back to Mid Suffolk District Council to be re-determined.

Views following the judgment

Bob McGeady led the team at Ashtons Legal acting for Thurston Parish Council and instructed Meyric Lewis of FTB Chambers.

Bob said following the judgment: “This is an important case as it reminds local authorities that where there is an up to date Neighbourhood Plan they cannot lightly ignore it and they must make decisions in accordance with its provisions”.

“It was obvious to us from the outset that the Council had misdirected itself and by was undermining the local plan process. By granting planning permission the Council was depriving interested parties and individuals of the ability to have their concerns properly considered by the Local Plan Inspector. The judge wholeheartedly agreed that the Council had misdirected itself. Given the criticism that was made by the Planning Inspector of the draft Local Plan and in particular the overall strategy it is disappointing that the Council has sought to appeal this straightforward decision rather than concentrate its resources to overcome the very real concerns set out by the Local Plan Inspector. The Council accepted the criticisms that its approach to settlement strategy and allocation of sites was fundamentally flawed. It is to be hoped that this site and others so affect ted will now be properly assessed in the future”.

Victoria Waples, Clerk to Thurston Parish Council added: “I would like to thank our legal team for all the hard work they put into this case on our behalf. The Thurston Neighbourhood Plan that was recently adopted in October 2019 sought to restrict development to keep it within the current village boundary to give the new developments time to be assimilated. The Parish Council has consistently objected to the District Council’s proposed strategy for the village as the local plan has been developed. We felt that the strategy should have been properly tested as part of the local plan examination. By granting planning permission for this site the District Council was seeking to undermine that process but hopefully, now the Council will go back to the drawing board and properly evaluate sites in accordance with the recommendations from the Local Plan Inspector”.

The Parish Council has consistently argued that all applications which fail to adhere to the main policies in the Thurston Neighbourhood Development Plan should not be supported. The Parish Council continues to request that the desires of the community, which were clearly expressed through engagement in the production of the Thurston NDP, are respected and that any coming forward demonstrate that they are in conformity with the Thurston NDP.

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