Council must pay Co-op costs in filling station appeal

COUNCIL Tax payers will have to stump up thousands of pounds after councillors ignored their own planners’ recommendation over a petrol filling station in St Ives.

Anglia Regional Co-operative Society has had planning consent for the filling station beside the Rainbow store in Constable Road for several years. The before building work could start the planning consent lapsed.

When the firm applied to renew the permission last year, Huntingdonshire District Council planners recommended that the council’s development management panel back the application.

The principle of a filling station on the site had been established by the earlier permission, and nothing had changed, they told councillors.

But, following a series of local protests from residents, local councillors succeeded in persuading the panel to throw out the application.

Now not only has the Co-op won its appeal and been given a new planning consent but the inspector who conducted the appeal has taken the comparatively unusual step of awarding costs against the council. Such a move happens rarely in planning appeals, and usually only of an appeal is deemed frivolous or vexatious or if the inspector thinks a planning panel has been completely unreasonable, as was presumably the case here.

Luckily for Council Tax payers, the panel decision will cost them the thousands of pounds the Co-op will have spent in mounting the paper-based appeal, rather than the tens of thousands that a full hearing would have cost. On top of that, HDC will have to pay its own costs.

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an Anglia Co-operative spokesman said: “We are very pleased with the decision as we feel that the overall site would benefit hugely from a filling station, which was our original thinking when looking at the first proposal.

“However, at this stage – given market conditions in respect of fuel – we do not have any immediate plans to commence work on the site.”

The protesters are unrepentant. Councillor Jason Ablewhite, who backed the opponents of the scheme, blamed the decision on the appeal system.

“It was the Co-operative and their insistence on a written appeal away from any potential bad publicity and subsequent inspector’s decision that overturned local democracy and public opinion,” he told the protesters at the weekend.

Resident Jean Eason said: “This decision is highly disappointing given the efforts made by local residents and constituents in support of their own case and it is a travesty that the local taxpayer will be left with the bill for the appeal.”

She added: “Since the previous appeal decision in 2004, there have been significant changes to the local environment, which will only exacerbate the effects of the development.”

“I cannot express how angry and how saddened I feel at this decision, nor how patronised I feel by the placatory and patronising attitudes that we have encountered along the way, nor at the laughable claims that the views of the local community must be taken into account so that decisions are made locally for the good of local people.

“Any decision that is taken in secret by a sole individual with no public access to the process can hardly claim to be transparent.”

Fellow protester Phil Sly felt let down by the district council. “The inspector all but said so in his report,” he said. He urged residents to become members of the Co-op and monitor implementation of the decision from within the society.