A poisoned chalice?

Is pre-application advice sometimes a poisoned chalice? A case in point concerns a recent appeal relating to a proposal for a new dwelling to the rear of an existing house in Derbyshire (DCS Number 400-025-015). In this case the inspector awarded costs against the council after she found the pre-application advice which had been given to be misleading.

The inspector acknowledged that informal advice given before an application is made is given without prejudice and cannot pre-determine the outcome of a subsequent application,  which has to take account of all material factors at the time the application is being considered. She noted that such a caveat was included in the written response. Nevertheless, she found that, whilst pre-application advice does not guarantee a favourable outcome, the appellants had amended the scheme in light of the advice given, and subsequently the application was refused on a matter which they had been advised could potentially be addressed, and a matter which was not raised as an issue in any event.

The inspector concluded that unreasonable behaviour resulting in unnecessary or wasted expense, as described in Planning Practice Guidance, had been demonstrated and that a full award of costs was justified.

In ‘Re-thinking the Planning System for the 21st Century’, published on 27 January, the Policy Exchange recommended that “As long as a proposed development does not break the development control rules set out in the local plan, meets building regulations and is not in a protected area, it should be permitted” and that local politicians ”should have no say over deciding applications for new developments”. This could be a bit radical for some, but it might well result in more reliable pre-application advice.

Section 5.12 of DCP Online covers pre-application consultation and discussion.