Bill for glasshouses plan inquiry reaches £120k

A planning dispute over a new £21.4m glasshouse development proposed for Almodington looks set to cost Chichester District Council taxpayers a packet.

An appeal has been lodged against the council’s refusal of planning consent for 52 acres of glasshouses, offices, reservoirs and roads at Easton Farm, in Easton Lane.

The district cabinet was told on Tuesday (June 12) that the full costs to the council as a result of the appeal were not yet known, but the current ‘best estimate’ was £121,000, excluding VAT and expenses, compared with an earlier estimate of up to £70,000.

The cabinet heard that additional work which pushed up the costs was necessary in order to properly present the council’s case at a public inquiry into the appeal.

This reflected the complexity of the planning issues, and the fact that the appellant (Madestein UK) had twice redesigned a proposed highway scheme after the appeal was lodged.

A cabinet report said the inquiry sat for 11 days, plus two days of site visits, and a further three sitting days were scheduled this month. This was the longest planning appeal officers could recall the council ever facing, and was proving to be one of the most complex and challenging.

The council raised strong objections to the very late submission of the new highway scheme, but the inspector ruled she would allow it to be submitted to the inquiry, and decided she wanted to hear evidence on it.

The inquiry was adjourned, and would reconvene on June 20.

The report said the evidence the inspector called for, and which the council had needed to prepare, related to the redesign of the highway scheme, and was substantial. Additional estimates were obtained from the barrister and witnesses, totalling £21,000.

The council was making a claim for this £21,000 on the grounds the appellants acted unreasonably in submitting new proposals at a late stage. However, the outcome of the claim was not yet known, and the recovery was not guaranteed.

The total expenditure for the council was estimated at £121,000 plus VAT and expenses.

“It is to be hoped the inspector will dismiss the appeal,” the report added. It was also hoped the council would be able to defend successfully against any claim for costs that might be made by the appellant. Public inquiries could be expensive, as in this case.

“This reflects the need to use expert witnesses and an advocate at least the equal to those fielded by the appellant in order to present a convincing and persuasive case to the inspector,” said the report.

The glasshouse plans have provoked strong local opposition, with objections from the Almodington Association and Earnley, Birdham, Sidlesham and Donnington parish councils.