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Two thirds of planning appeals succeed where councillors go against officer recommendation

Two thirds (65%) of appeals are allowed in cases where councillors refuse planning permission for a 50-plus residential unit scheme despite a planning officer’s recommendation for approval, research by planning consultancy Lichfields has suggested.

In preparing its report Lichfields looked at all 309 appeals for residential proposals of more than 50 residential units decided in 2017 across England, Wales and Scotland.

This found that only 40% of appeals were allowed when decisions on applications were made in line with officer recommendations for refusal.

Lichfields said: “It is thus a legitimate matter of public interest to consider the outcome of planning decisions made by elected councillors against professional advice where the applicant decides to appeal, particularly when the refusal subsequently overturned.”

The consultancy said its research showed that there were factors in schemes refused against officer recommendation which made them more likely to be allowed on appeal.

“Of the commonly cited reasons for refusal, our research has found that where reasons related to highly technical matters (such as highways impact) the percentage of allowed appeals is generally higher than where reasons for refusal are more subjective," it noted.

“Furthermore, where there is an agreed position of no five year housing land supply, this equated to a c.10% increase in the likelihood of an appeal being allowed.”

The consultancy recommended that:

  • Councils should seek independent advice where there is disagreement between the planning officer and members on a technical issue;
  • Allowing for a ‘cooling off’ period whereby impartial advice can be sought about appeal prospects before a refusal is confirmed;
  • An obligation to record and publish the outcomes of appeals where decisions were made against officer recommendation;
  • Offering more bespoke training to planning committee members, particularly where more appeals are overturned than the authority average when determined against officer recommendation; and
  • Extending the Secretary of State’s powers to designate authorities that “are not adequately performing their function of determining applications”, to include a measure on appeals being overturned when refused against officer recommendation.

A copy of the report, Refused for good reason? When Councillors go against officer recommendations, can be downloaded here.