Rumour has it that planners have a tendency to keep quiet about their profession at parties, and given some of our colleagues’ behaviour on occasion it isn’t hard to see why the public perception of the planning profession is not always as elevated as it might be. Three cheers to the planning inspector who recently upbraided a council for its poor behaviour in making an unsubstantiated costs claim.
The council had made an application for a full award of costs in relation to an appeal made against an enforcement notice (DCS Number 400-014-405). The inspector noted, however, that it had not offered any reason why the mere act of submitting the appeal might be said to constitute unreasonable behaviour. In fact, he said a bit more: “In fifteen years as a Planning Inspector this is the most pathetic application for costs I have ever had the misfortune to have to adjudicate on.” He continued that in the context of a statutory right of appeal it would be quite extraordinary for him to make an award of costs against an appellant merely because they had exercised their right of appeal. He further noted that inspectors can use their powers to make an award of costs where they have found unreasonable behaviour, including in cases where no application has been made. He had personally never exercised that power but had seriously considered whether to do so having regard to: the council’s failure to attend the site visit; its introduction of new policies that were not quoted on the face of the notice; its apparent misunderstanding of national policy; and, there being, at the very least, a question as to whether a more helpful approach could have resulted in the appeal being avoided. Put bluntly the application for costs was so frivolous as to be a complete waste of public resources, he concluded.
The inspector decided, nevertheless, to exercise his discretion not to initiate an application for costs but warned the council to take his comments on board to avoid any prospect of such an award being made in the future.
They can’t say they haven’t been warned.
The following DCP section is relevant: 6.12