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Councils lose £12 million in planning appeal costs

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Local authories paid out nearly £12 million in costs awarded in planning appeal cases between 2010 and 2016, Freedom of Information (FOI) requests have revealed

Responses to FOIs from 178 planning authorities showed that over the past six years UK councils wasted a total of £11,965,077 paying the costs of victorious developers following failed attempts to fight planning appeals. 

The FOIs, which were made by property consultancy Daniel Watney, uncovered that Cornwall Council spent the most. It was penalised £981,332 for unsuccessful defences.

Poole Borough Council had the highest number of cost decisions made against it – 30 – and Halton Borough Council paid out the highest average sum per lost appeal – £360,735.

In general, such costs are met from the local planning authority’s budget.

Peter Stewart of Peter Stewart Consultancy said the figures were ‘shocking’ and ‘a waste of public money’. 

He suspected that in a lot of cases the costs awarded at successful appeals were the result of elected members refusing applications against planning officers’ advice, with members sometimes ‘grandstanding’ at committees in the presence of objecting voters.

Stewart added: ’Members are of course entitled to go against officers’ recommendations. My view is that in circumstances where they choose to do so, there should be a formal requirement that they are presented with a publicly available assessment of the likelihood of costs being awarded against the council as a result of their decision, and how much this might be, and then a requirement for members to state that they are taking the decision in the knowledge of those circumstances.’

However, Charles Mills, partner and head of planning at property consultant Daniel Watney, explained that costs were not always awarded against councils following successful appeals and that the process for developers seeking compensation for their unnecessary efforts was ’onerous’.

He said: ’When you go through a planning appeal, you make an application of costs to the Inspector at the time of the appeal but many won’t necessarily do that.

’For that to be successful you have to be able to show that the local authority has acted unreasonably, which there isn’t a specific test for. It is quite an onerous task to demonstrate that a local authority has been unreasonable during the process.

’In addition planning appeal inspectors – understandably, in a period of cuts to local council budgets – appear willing only to allow costs against councils in the most extreme cases.’

Highest sums paid out by local authorities 

Local authority Highest total sum Local authority Highest average per lost appeal

Cornwall Council


Halton Borough Council


Derby City Council


Derby City Council


Halton Borough Council


Cornwall Council


Stratford-on-Avon District Council


Rugby Borough Council


South Gloucestershire Council


London Borough of Wandsworth


Basingstoke and Dean Borough Council


Ryedale District Council


Horsham District Council


Horsham District Council


Cambridge City Council


South Gloucestershire Council




Stratford-on-Avon District Council




Oxfordshire County Council




  • 1 Comment

Readers' comments (1)

  • Whilst I acknowledge Peter Stewart's scenario about costs being awarded against Councils in planning appeals, I cannot agree with his prescription.

    Officers sometimes give poor advice, particularly when they have been worn down through protracted negotiations with a persistent developer to the point where they feel obliged to recommend approval. The political culture that tells planners that they have a duty to enable development to succeed predisposes them to negotiation rather than rejecting outright a fundamentally bad proposal.

    The ability of members to take an uncompromised position and recognise the inherent unworthiness of an application is an important principal. To intimidate them by threats of an award of costs is to load the dice in favour of an officers' compromised position. It would also be impossible to indicate what those costs would be, should they so arise.

    As one moves around the country, it is all too obvious that the planning system currently offers very little constraint against poor development. Let's not hamper it at every stage.

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