Hadham Park House couple awarded £83,000 costs after East Herts Council admits granting unlawful planning permission for neighbouring scaffolding firm's offices
A couple waging a long-running planning battle with their scaffolding firm neighbour, which they say has blighted their historic country home, have been awarded £83,000 costs from the district council by a judge following a judicial review.
Mike Tattum and Jane Bell challenged East Herts Council (EHC) over planning breaches by Connect Scaffolding and the authority’s failure to use its powers of enforcement.
They called for a judicial review, and after the case was held last summer East Herts admitted granting unlawful permission of an office development. It was ordered to pay Mr Tattum £82,962.66 to cover part of his costs.
The couple were furious after Connect expanded its premises and put several Portakabins next to their home, grade II listed Hadham Park House, off the A120 on the outskirts of Bishop's Stortford.
They say family life was blighted by the expansion and were angry that EHC invited Connect to seek planning permission retrospectively, rather than being compelled to remove the unlawful development.
Oliver Cave, who owns Connect, disputes his company has flouted planning rules and insists he cares about the impact of his business on his neighbours.
Mr Tattum says the costs he was awarded cover about 70% of his legal fees and claims the true cost to the council is likely to be in the region of £150,000-£200,000 when taking into account its own legal and professional fees.
Ms Bell was critical of comments from EHC that the costs were "manifestly excessive".
She said: "Yet again we have a situation where the council seem to believe they are right when they are manifestly wrong. We all make mistakes, but seemingly East Herts believe they know best.
"A judge specialising in this area of the law decided on the extent of costs, but the council question his judgment. Perhaps the council should spend more time understanding their failures and actually enforcing planning law to better serve their community, rather than seeking to blame everyone but themselves."
Mr Tattum and Ms Bell have launched a campaign, Action on Planning, urging the Government to review the retrospective planning permission process and to introduce new legislation to compel local authorities to take swift action against those who transgress the planning rules.
Mr Tattum says it will never make up for the stress and anxiety the dispute has caused his family, but he hopes that it will stop wasting taxpayers’ money and help to protect the Green Belt.
“The reality is that after accepting defeat at judicial review, the council then took a further eight months to finally pay our costs," he said.
"Every day’s delay meant that the interest was racking up. Had they paid our costs at the outset, the bill would have been in the region of £55,000. Instead, they tried to offer us £8,000 and then £10,000, which was totally unrealistic and nowhere near reflected our true costs.
"And, of course, there would have been no need for court action if the council had taken enforcement action immediately, which would have avoided this whole sorry saga."
He concluded: "The officers responsible should be held to account."
A spokesman for East Herts Council said: “The council did not lose the judicial review instigated by the claimants, it settled early before a judge ruled on whether there was any merit in the claim to allow it to proceed to a full hearing.
"Due to the impact on the public purse, the council, by way of a detailed costs assessment, challenged the manifestly excessive legal costs the claimants were seeking to recover considering the case never made it to court. Unfortunately, after the assessment, the claimants were awarded their costs, which the council found extremely disappointing.
“As case law states, it is important that public authorities are able to make and stand by honest, reasonable and apparently sound administrative decisions made in the public interest without fear of exposure to undue financial prejudice if the decision is successfully challenged.”