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Town council fails in challenge to decision by planning inspector to grant permission for 4.2 hectares business park redevelopment

Thame Town Council has lost on all four grounds of challenge in a High Court appeal over a planning dispute.

In Thame Town Council v Secretary of State for Housing, Communities And Local Government & Ors [2021] EWHC 291 Mrs Justice Lang ruled that she could find nothing wrong with the way planning inspector Chris Baxter handled an appeal by Angle Property against South Oxfordshire District Council’s rejection of its planning application.

Mr Baxter said Angle Property should gain permission to redevelop land at Kingsmead Business Park, Thame.

The vacant 4.2 hectares site comprised a warehouse, service yard and two storey office building with a large car park.

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Angle applied for outline planning permission to demolish existing buildings, and develop of 1,511 square metres of offices, 129 homes and a 68-bed care home.

An officer’s report recommended planning permission be granted, but South Oxfordshire refused this because of the loss of an employment site.

The committee found Angle had carried out a marketing exercise that excluded part of the site and so could not demonstrate that it was no longer economically viable.

Angle appealed and Mr Baxter concluded that while the proposal was contrary to the policies the office building already had prior approval for conversion to flats, to which he attached “great weight”.

He concluded: “Whilst the proposal would conflict with [council planning policies] this is outweighed by the fact that the office building part of the appeal site benefits from an extant prior approval and the submitted marketing exercise demonstrates that the warehouse part of the site is no longer viable.”

Thame appealed on the grounds that Mr Baxter misunderstood or misapplied policies in the development plan, failed to take into account material considerations, made an irrational decision and failed to provide adequate reasons for his decision.

Lang J rejected all these grounds finding “the inspector's reasoning does not demonstrate any misunderstanding or misapplication of the policies in the development plan”.

She ruled his reasoning was both logical and rational as the consequence of refusing planning permission would have been that the prior approval would be implemented, with the resultant loss of employment use on that part of the site, leaving only a vacant warehouse on the remainder.

“In those circumstances, refusal by reference to the policies would have achieved nothing in terms of preserving employment use, but would have prevented a sustainable mixed use development, comprising housing, offices and a care home, from coming forward,” the judge said.

Mark Smulian

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