Councillors told they are in a ‘planning minefield’ after potentially ‘unlawful’ decision

By Local Democracy Reporter

Steve Shaw

THURROCK councillors were warned they may have made an unlawful decision and were in a “planning minefield” when they decided to vote in favour of a planning application for housing in Grays.

Members of Thurrock’s Planning Committee went against the advice of council officers during a meeting on Thursday and approved an outline plan to build 75 new homes on land adjacent to Wood View and Chadwell Road in Grays.

The council’s planning team told the committee that the proposed houses were within green belt land and granting planning permission would potentially be “unlawful”.

However, Labour Councillor Gerard Rice refused to accept the recommendation and sought alternative legal advice to what was given by the council’s own legal team.

He said: “We have other legal advice here from a QC and with the greatest respect I would say a QC probably has a better understanding of law than other legal people.

“When we talk about achieving sustainable development, the officers are saying there is limited weight, I say there is significant weight. When we are talking about making effective use of land, officers say no weight, I think it is significant because we are making use of land.

“When we are talking about delivering a sufficient number of homes, whether we like it or not we don’t have a 5-year supply of homes. Officers say no weight, I say significant.

“Those are disagreements between an officer and a member.”

He added: “The prime minister of this land has said repeatedly build, build, build. That means building homes.

“If we are not taking part in that we are not going to get this country out of recession. Those are the facts.”

The council’s legal officer told the committee that Mr Rice’s reasons are “flimsy” and meeting chair Conservative councillor Tom Kelly said members are about to run through a “planning minefield”.

Mr Kelly added: “You might get through that field okay but if a planning inspector picks it up Councillor Rice, I think you know he is going to lambaste us.”

Further warnings came from the council’s monitoring officer, who is responsible for decision whether a decision fits within the constitution.

He told members that voting to approve would mean a section five report would need to be produced which is an examination into whether a decision is legal or not.

He said: “If there were no clear reasons or evidence for making a decision, the monitoring officer has the right to take the view that any decision is unlawful and that is quite serious.”

Despite the concerns, four voted in favour of the plans and just three members voted to refuse.

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