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Seymour Villa & Seymour Cottage – a planning tale

Planning appeals

“When I use a word”, Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less”

“The question is”, said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things”.

“The question is”, said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – that’s all”.

Alice was too much puzzled to say anything, so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again….” – Lewis Carrol’s, Alice Through the Looking Glass.

The above quote formed part of the judgment of the Court in the recent case of Herold -v- Minister for Planning. It was a reflection of the Court’s dim view of the Planning Minister’s inconsistent approach on the same point which the Court had considered four months earlier.

Third party appeals

Jersey law permits third party appeals against planning permissions which means that a neighbour, for example, may challenge a decision made by the Planning Minister in the Royal Court. Mrs. Herold – the owner- challenged the decision of the Minister on the grounds (amongst other things) that it:

  • ignored the status of her home as a potential “Building of Local Interest”; and
  • ignored the written policies by not taking into account the impact of the proposed development in its setting contrasted to its neighbouring properties.

She owns “Seymour Cottage” on the coast at Grouville. The name of her home is probably taken from Seymour Tower which is a dominating fortification out to sea at Grouville bay. A multi-unit development was granted permission to be built next-door to her home. She challenged the planning permission.

The Minister first sought to argue that the planning permission need not take into account the neighbouring property because it was not yet listed. It is only a “potential building of local interest” rather than one which had been granted the status.

Potential building of local interest

The Court recited the quote above because it was precisely the opposite argument which the Planning Minister had advanced connected with a case dealing with a property called Seymour Villa four months earlier (Seymour Villas Limited –v- Minister for Planning). Seymour Villa is in fact nowhere near Grouville or the coast. To the Court, the Minister was being inconsistent as he has refused a planning application for Seymour Villa partly on the grounds that the building was a “potential listed building” and yet had refused to take into account the impact of the multi unit development next-door to the potentially listed “Seymour Cottage”. Although the case was not a challenge to a refusal of the planning permission it was noted that the Minister had taken its potential listing into account when doing so. It was noted that there are some 3,500 sites which have been given the label “potential listed building” and which have yet to be considered. That process is slow.

The Court concluded that the potential listing of “Seymour Cottag” next door to the proposed Grouville development could not be ignored and the Minister had misdirected himself.

The surroundings

The Minister then argued that less weight needed to be added to the impact of a potentially listed building next door to the development when considering whether a planning permit ought to be issued. The Court held that it ignored the specific wording of the planning law which required the Minister to take into account the impact of the development in the surrounding area. The context of the development was important and the Court concluded it would be quite improper to ignore it.

The Court ordered that the planning permission connected to the Seymour Cottage case:

  • plus connected planning obligation agreement be cancelled; and
  • the matter be remitted back to the Planning Minister for reconsideration.

Conclusions

It is clear that the policies which the planning department and the Minister have applied need revision. The court noted that the Minister would label properties a grade of listing and yet those rankings were not formally recorded in the policy and had no status. It also underlined the importance of consistency in decisions. The planning process is made all the more complicated and difficult if there is none and both applicants and neighbours can be sucked into disputes.

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