In a long and frequently tetchy Council meeting on 24 July, my written question on legal representation at the forthcoming Feniton appeals was raised. The question read:
It appears likely that Feniton’s four planning appeals will be heard as one merged public inquiry. Given that the over-riding reason for EDDC’s refusal of these applications was ‘sustainability’, would the Council agree to outsource its legal representation to a QC specialising in planning and, more specifically, sustainability? Feniton is bracing itself to be in the eye of the media storm yet again, and it is vital that appeals are won, both to Feniton and EDDC.
I received the following written response:
I am disappointed that the Councillor demonstrates such a low opinion of our staff, particularly when our appeal success rate is well above the national average with 75% of appeals against the Council’s decision to refuse planning permission being dismissed. That being said our legal team will assess the best way forward and if external legal representation is appropriate it will be engaged.
I was not best pleased at being represented as being critical of legal officers. Sustainability is an extremely complex issue and, despite being a remarkably vague term, is the cornerstone of the NPPF (i.e. planning policy). My supplementary question was:
I take absolute exception to the response to my question stating that I have a low opinion of legal staff. Nothing could be further from the truth. However, the appeals in Feniton, if amalgamated, will no doubt be reported in the national press with obvious implications for the reputation of the Council if legal defence fails. If the Council loses this ‘super-appeal’, it will be liable for costs. I ask you to consider investment in a barrister who has a proven track record in winning appeals involving sustainability.
The Leader of the Council referred me back to his original answer and said that the Legal Department would be assessing the requirement for external legal representation.