East Hertfordshire Council has voiced its anger after a judge awarded a couple what the local authority claimed were “manifestly excessive” costs in a planning case.
Local residents Mike Tattum and Jane Bell challenged the council over what they said were planning breaches by a company named Connect Scaffolding, which was given permission to build offices adjacent to their home.
The couple argued that East Hertfordshire should have used planning enforcement powers against the company, and sought judicial review when the council proposed that Connect should seek retrospective permission.
Although the council settled the case early, it expressed shock at the level of costs awarded to the couple, which it said was contrary to a ruling in City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council v Booth  EWHC Admin 444).
A council spokesperson said: “The council did not lose the judicial review instigated by the claimants, it settled early before a judge ruled on whether there was any merit in the claim to allow it to proceed to a full hearing.
“Due to the impact on the public purse, the council, by way of a detailed costs assessment, challenged the manifestly excessive legal costs the claimants were seeking to recover considering the case never made it to court.
“Unfortunately, after the assessment the claimants were awarded their costs which the council found extremely disappointing.”
These costs have been reported locally at almost £83,000.
East Hertfordshire challenged the costs award via a detailed costs assessment but the court decided in favour of Mr Tattum and Ms Bell.
Referring to the Bradford case, the spokesperson added: “As case law states, it is important that pubic authorities are able to make and stand by honest reasonable and apparently sound administrative decisions made in the public interest without fear of exposure to undue financial prejudice if the decision is successfully challenged.”
The council settled early as it considered the matter a minor planning application, delegated to officers to determine, and thought it cost and time effective to quash the permission and re-determine as there was a risk that a judge might give permission for a full hearing.