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Maidstone council has lost 70% of the last batch of planning appeal decisions

Of 10 planning appeal decisions announced in the last three weeks, Maidstone council had lost seven of them, members of the planning committee were told.

Planning officer Austin Mackie described the number of appeals being allowed by Government planning inspectors contrary to advice of the borough council as "disappointing."

Four were for Gypsy and Traveller applications. Mr Mackie said: "Inspectors are placing significant weight on status and need. Those are very difficult decisions at the moment."

Cllr Martin Round: "We are being made to look like fools."
Cllr Martin Round: "We are being made to look like fools."

Mr Mackie said: "The ones we've lost, apart from Gypsy and Travellers sites, are really subjective views on minor developments.

"A dwelling application that we lost in Popular Grove, Maidstone, we refused a scheme. We then granted approval for a lesser roof height, but unfortunately the inspector then said, well the one you've refused is only a bit higher than the one you approved, rather than looking at whether one was good quality and one was poor quality."

Councillors were keen to report their disquiet at the inspectors' decisions to the Minister of State and local MPs, but Mr Mackie said: "We (officers) feel that what we need to do first is a digest of decisions, to look at where the trends are.

"There is a particular spike in relation to the Gipsy and Traveller sites. They are a significant issue in themselves, but they also skew the wider statistics.

"At the moment the inspectorate returns suggest we are losing 46% of appeals, and the average around Kent excluding ourselves is about 23 - 30%.

"There may be reasons for that - some authorities have Greenbelt land and far greater areas of protected AONB."

He said: "We have a very positive Local Plan and a very positive approach to delivery, but where we do chose to refuse, inspectors are not recognising that we only refuse when we feel the quality is poor or the scheme sits outside the Local Plan."

Mr Mackie said the council would need to look to see if it had been presenting the right evidence to inspectors, and asked: "Have we let our guard down a little?

"It may be that when we refuse on principle we also have to throw in a lot more details on the reasons for refusal."

Mr Mackie said: "I don't necessarily feel we are being picked on by the planning inspectorate. I came from Canterbury council. They have a very good rate of successfully defending 80% of appeals, but they spend forever determining their applications.

"They use extensions of time to negotiate, negotiate and negotiate. That isn't our policy and it would not work in terms of the sheer workload that we have."

Cllr Martin Round (Con) said: "I'm particularly concerned in my ward (Headcorn) about the number of lost Gipsy and Traveller appeals.

"Appeal inspectors are effectively berating the work of this committee. and knocking the work of our enforcement officers.

"Sometimes I wonder, what the point of us sitting here? What's the point of having a committee? What is the point of employing enforcement officers?

"We are being made to look like fools in front of our community."

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