'Fundamental flaws' - Solicitor's letter to council over planning application

Breckland District Council

Breckland Council has launched a new video appointment system. - Credit: Ian Burt

A solicitor has warned a Norfolk council that it signed off on a planning application with “fundamental flaws” and that there are “strong grounds” for the permission they gave to be quashed in court.

Leathes Prior Solicitors wrote to Breckland district council on Thursday following concerns raised by Dereham town council that a planned development of 100 homes in Toftwood was failing to provide all of the outdoor playing space it should.

It is understood Breckland council has now pulled the application from the planning committee meeting it was due to be discussed at on Monday, December 14, and the item has been deferred until 2021. 

The letter warns that an agreement signed by Breckland “indisputably failed” to provide enough outdoor playing space on-site, but outline permission was still given to the developers.

“The consequences which flow from this are severe”, the letter reads. 

Breckland later amended the agreement on open space without consulting Dereham town council. At the same time, it accepted a request from the developer to reduce the amount of affordable housing it had to provide.

While the town council were made aware of the latter change, the solicitor’s letter notes that the officer’s report from the time “includes no reference to the alteration of the open space provisions.” 

The revised agreement on open space acknowledged that the developer, Persimmon Homes, needs to provide a so-called ‘commuted sum’ to Breckland so that the space they are failing to provide on-site can be provided elsewhere in Dereham. 

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The letter says that in calculating this sum however, Breckland failed to include the value of land acquisition for the space.  

“At present, the off-site contribution proposed is £228,926 less than required”, the letter reads, before saying that the proposal in its current form should be refused. 

A Breckland Council spokesperson commented: “We have acknowledged the letter sent on behalf of Dereham Town Council in relation to Land East of Westfield Road. We cannot comment at this stage.”

A spokesman for Persimmon Homes Anglia said earlier this week that it has consulted "extensively" with Breckland on the plans and that it was "confident" the figure had been calculated correctly.

“Our proposals will deliver 100 much-needed homes for local people, including 25 designated as affordable homes," he said.

"In addition to meeting the policy requirement for play space on the development and the financial contribution to off-site outdoor sport provision, we will also be installing a BMX pump track facility on site, as specifically requested by Dereham Town Council.”

Stuart Green, 27, the new mayor of Dereham, and believed to be the youngest they have ever had. Pict

Stuart Green, 27, the mayor of Dereham. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2020

Dereham Mayor Stuart Green said: “I'm pleased to see that the application has been deferred from next week's meeting, in the hope that planners will be relooking at this after we highlighted the possible miscalculation. It's key to ensure we get the right amounts of open/play space for residents of Dereham. 
“The on-site provisions planned are great,” said Mr Green, “but it's not enough. We need the correct amount of money to enable this extra space to be brought and provided for residents elsewhere.” 

Amy-Jane Brooks, Dereham town councillor. Picture: AMY-JANE BROOKS

Amy-Jane Brooks, Dereham town councillor. Picture: AMY-JANE BROOKS - Credit: Archant

Town councillor Amy-Jane Brooks said: “I’m flabbergasted that such a large council can get it so wrong and then try to cover their tracks, which is absolutely disgraceful. Particularly when it's already been a difficult year for council taxpayers, and we need to make sure that we’re getting what Dereham deserves.”

“I can now see why members of the public have low confidence in councils such as Breckland,” Ms Brooks added.

Town councillor Chris Bunting said: “It would be a monumental error by Breckland council if they have, as it appears, miscalculated the amount owed by Persimmon Homes to the tune of nearly a quarter of a million pounds and furthermore a very dangerous and detrimental precedent to set future developments if they were simply allowed to get away with it.

“Dereham is already massively underfunded by the government compared to other towns of similar size and mistakes like this will only be seen to heighten the problems."

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