Torridge and North Devon spent nearly half a million pounds defending decisions since 2011

North Devon Council and Torridge District Council have spent nearly half a million pounds on planning decision appeals since 2011 – and lost more than a third of them.

Figures obtained by the Gazette show that Torridge District Council has paid out £96,337 since 2011/12, while planning appeals and awards of costs came to £331,826.92 for North Devon Council during the same period.

These figures do not include planning officer time dealing with the appeals.

In recent years, the councils had a number of high-profile decisions overturned, including wind turbine sites at Fullabrook and Batsworthy, and plans for 277 houses on the Fremington army camp site.

In 2012/2013, TDC spent around £38,000 on specialist reports and fees to defend a decision to refuse permission for a wind turbine application, only to have the decision overturned at appeal.

And in total, the two councils lost 58 of the 154 completed appeals - a rate of 37.7%. For TDC, this was especially high, at 43.6%.

TDC leader Cllr Phil Collins defended the council’s record, saying that the plans committee was ‘stuck between a rock and a hard place’.

“It has been said by some that do not support certain types of planning applications, that Torridge is frightened of losing appeals that cost the tax payer money. I think the figures speak for themselves.

“Whilst it is a concern, we do not make decisions based on the financial cost if we lose an appeal, but based on the planning considerations of each application.

“Appeals are considered by planning inspectors who are not local and have no connections to Torridge.

“Clearly the plans committee is stuck between a rock and a hard place in this situation as the inspector’s view of what is acceptable often differs from our own. Once an application goes to appeal, it is out of our hands.

“It is a great pity that the Government talk of localism is not backed up by the Government planning inspectors’ decisions in many cases.

“Even (Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government) Eric Pickles is threatening to turn over decisions by local Planning committees - now that seems totally against local decision making to me.”

Cllr Eric Ley, chairman of North Devon’s planning committee, said the goal posts had been moved in favour of development.

“More applicants are choosing to go to appeal against decisions as they presume they will win,” he said.

“Appeals are very undemocratic and can be a costly system for those involved as a decision is reached by just one person.”