Devon council in £50k court move against own department

Former Focus store in Tavistock A planning application has been submitted by site owners Marchfield for a Tesco supermarket

A catalogue of errors led to a Devon council spending £50,000 on a court action against its own planning decision, it has emerged.

In 2007 West Devon Council approved a Focus DIY store in Tavistock.

In 2011, when allowing minor changes at the site, the council failed to retain a restriction as a non-food outlet.

After supermarket giant Tesco declared an interest in the site, the council decided in May last year to launch a judicial review of the case.

But an internal report has revealed the authority was beyond the three-month time period in which a legal challenge could be made.

The court appearance was unsuccessful and resulted in costs of about £50,000.

TIMELINE

  • 2007: Approval given for Focus store in Tavistock
  • 2008: Focus store built
  • May 2011: Focus goes into administration
  • July 2011: Minor alterations allowed in planning application. Restriction as non-food outlet not retained
  • May 2012: Council fails in judicial review
  • November 2013: Tesco planning application due to be considered
'Not rocket science'

A planning application has been now submitted by site owners Marchfield for a Tesco supermarket and is expected to be heard in November.

The report found the delay in seeking a judicial review was partly down to the case "being passed back and forth" between the legal and planning departments, without anyone taking clear ownership or responsibility for it.

Councillors voted to seek a judicial review but had not been provided with enough information on the elapsed time period, the report added.

Liberal Democrat councillor Alison Clish-Green said: "The three-month rule for the judicial review is not rocket science and I would have thought most councillors could have got their heads around that.

"I don't think we were told, as a council, how serious it was and if we had have been, perhaps we would not have gone for the judicial review."

The report, called The Focus Review, made a number of recommendations including creating a closer partnership between the legal and planning departments and said that any serious litigation proceedings should be dealt with promptly.

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