A planning officer's report to Guildford Borough Council (GBC) recommended that outline permission be granted for proposals to build 400 homes on land designated as 'Countryside Beyond the Green Belt' (CBGB) in the 2003 Guildford local plan. In the report, the officer mistakenly said that a saved policy from the local plan, which sought to restrict development on CBGB, should be given no weight because it predated the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) introduced in 2012.
Ash Parish Council applied to the High Court for GBC's subsequent decision to grant consent for the plans to be quashed, arguing that the Council had been materially misled by the planning officer's advice.
In a decision dated 20 November, Mrs Justice Patterson rejected the submission that GBC had been confused about the approach that should be taken to the saved policy as a result of the planning officer's mistake. "Reading the report as a whole, and in the context of oral advice given to members, in my judgment, it cannot be said that the councillors were significantly misled by the advice given to them," said the judge.
Mrs Justice Patterson said that, while the report contained errors, GBC had in fact taken the correct approach in coming to its decision. Planning officers attending the meeting at which the decision was taken had correctly told councillors that the starting point for the consideration of the application was the 2003 development plan and that the proposed development conflicted with the CBGB policy, the judge said.
Officers had correctly re-iterated the report's advice that the Council was unable to demonstrate a five year supply of housing and the NPPF's presumption in favour of sustainable development should be applied, said Mrs Justice Patterson. The judge said that, while a policy should not be considered out-of-date simply due to its chronological age, the blanket nature of the application of the CBGB policy meant that it did not comply with the core principles of the NPPF.
The Council was entitled to give "reduced weight" the policy, said the judge, and had been entitled to reach the decision to approve the plans, having found that the contribution to the supply of housing and other benefits outweighed the acknowledged harm to the character of the open countryside. Rejecting the challenge, Mrs Justice Patterson added: "If [the CBGB policy] should have been given greater weight I am in no doubt that the eventual decision would have been the same."