PINS apologises for inspectors unprofessional language in decision letter

28 Mar 17

The Planning Inspectorate (PINS) has issued an apology for a scathing decision letter that slammed a council's appeal cost application as 'pathetic' and 'frivolous'.

 

Planning inspector Pete Drew issued the letter following Bath and North East Somerset Council's application for a full award of costs against a householder who unsuccessfully tried to appeal against an enforcement notice.

Cost awards are orders, determined by inspectors, that require the losing party to pay the winner the full or partial costs incurred during the appeal process. 

The order is made, according to the Planning Practice Guidance, "where a party has behaved unreasonably".

In February, Drew dismissed an appeal by Kate Chubb, of St Catherine, near Bath, against an enforcement notice issued by the council. 

Chubb was told by the authority to remove a two metre high wooden fence because it did not have planning permission.

In rejecting the council's cost application, Drew said: "In 15 years as a planning inspector, this is the most pathetic application for costs I have ever had the misfortune to have to adjudicate on."

The letter went on to say that the authority "has not offered any reason why the mere act of submitting this appeal might be said to constitute unreasonable behaviour", adding: "It would be quite extraordinary for me to make an award of costs against an appellant merely because they had exercised their right of appeal against such a notice."

Drew went on to say that he "seriously considered" making an award of costs against the council instead for "unreasonable behaviour". He concluded: "Put bluntly, this application for costs is so frivolous as to be a complete waste of public resources."

The council objected to Drew's language and raised a formal complaint that was upheld by PINS, which earlier this month sent the council a letter expressing "sincere apologies".

The letter, from the customer quality team, states: "Inspectors are encouraged not to use what may be considered to be emotive language when writing their decision letters. They are required to exercise care to ensure the use of tact and objective language, avoiding criticism of the parties, whether overt or implied."

It goes on to say that the inspector's "overall reasoning and conclusions are accepted", but "regrettably, the phrasing used is both unnecessary and unprofessional".

The letter adds: "This costs decision falls short of the standards to which we aspire in this particular aspect. I can assure you that we take such matters seriously and are keen to learn from our mistakes."

The findings were "bought to the attention of both the inspector and his professional manager", it said.

The council was approached for a comment, but had not responded by the time of publication.

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