Published: 12:31, 22 July 2021
| Updated: 12:33, 22 July 2021
A council decision to build 38 homes next to a special educational needs school has been deemed "unlawful" and plans quashed in the High Court.
The development next to Laleham Gap School in Ramsgate was approved by planning officers at Thanet District Council despite more than 30 objections by worried parents and head teacher Les Milton.
They warned that children with complex needs, including some who are prone to emotional breakdowns, would be overlooked in the primary playground by people in the new houses.
They also flagged up issues with the close proximity of the homes to the school, the additional traffic on A256 New Haine Road and the impact of construction noise on the 220 pupils, who have autism and speech and language difficulties.
But planning permission was granted for the development on the Stirling Way site, which is owned by East Kent Opportunities, a partnership of Thanet District Council and Kent County Council.
The housing scheme, led by developer Kentish Projects Ltd and consisting of 23 houses and 15 flats, with parking for 59 cars, did not go to committee but was approved by planning officers in October last year.
A parent, supported by Parents at Laleham Gap School (PALS), pushed for a judicial review to challenge the decision and the way in which it was handled.
Six grounds were put forward and Deputy High Court Judge Tim Corner QC upheld them all at a hearing last week and quashed the planning permission.
He said owing to the council’s interest in the site, he held that TDC was under an enhanced duty to engage with objections "thoroughly, conscientiously and fairly".
The first ground in the challenge was that the local authority should have taken the application to its planning committee as required.
The second concerned the Habitats Regulations and the inadequacy of the appropriate assessment about possible adverse affects on the site.
The third was in respect of noise and the failure by the council to undertake an assessment of the impacts on the school as well as the construction noise, despite this being sought by the Environmental Health Officer.
Highway safety implications and a lack of air quality assessment were raised in two further grounds.
And the sixth ground of challenge concerned apparent bias due to the council's relation to the site and failure for the scheme to go in front of the planning committee, despite being initially scheduled to do so.
The judge concluded that a "fair-minded observer would have thought there was a real possibility that the decision-maker was biased".
Planning permission was quashed and the judge also granted a pro bono costs order in the claimant’s favour for £35,000.
Laleham Gap head teacher Mr Milton says he welcomes the decision.
"I am sure this will not be the end of the matter," he added.
"However, I am pleased that parent lobbying and support has led to this decision.
"I would like to thank this parent and the Parents Association for supporting her.
"I cannot express enough gratitude for Elaine Sherratt at the Kent Law Clinic, without whom this would not have been possible.
"The description I have been given of our case presentation by Jonathan Welch and Richard Honey QC was nothing short of marvellous."
A spokesman for PALS says the pro bono costs awarded will be donated to charity.
He said: "The council was offered the chance to do the right thing and save on legal costs but instead chose to financially intimidate us immediately with their huge legal costs and lost.
"Although costly to the ratepayers, it diverts money away from damaging democracy and protects ratepayers and residents long term.
"Our barrister's costs will be donated to charity for those who cannot afford justice."
A spokesman for Thanet council said: "We will be reassessing the application in respect of the issues raised and reporting the application to the planning committee for a decision in due course."