The High Court has overturned planning permission for a 51-home development on green space in Liverpool. The project also involved the redevelopment of a 19th century mansion.

The judge ruled that Liverpool City Council had misinterpreted and misapplied its own planning policy when considering the planning application.

Housebuilder Redrow Homes had applied for permission to convert the Grade II listed Beechley House into 12 apartments and build a further 39 homes nearby.

Beechley House was first built in 1835 and much of its grounds now form Calderstones Park, a green space in the heart of the city, the court heard. The building’s environs, including its stable block, are also listed.

In recommending that planning consent for what is known as the Harthill scheme be granted, one of the council’s planning officers expressed the view that the council-owned site did not form part of the park, in that public access to substantial sections of it was restricted.

Pointing to the pressing need for more housing in the area, the officer said that the less than substantial harm to Beechley House and other heritage assets would be outweighed by the public benefits of the development. The project would also secure the restoration of the heritage assets and ensure their optimum use.

The council accepted the officer’s recommendations and granted planning permission in February 2017. Consent for the relocation of a miniature railway and associated facilities, in order to make way for the housing development, was also granted.

In challenging the housing permission, campaign group, the Local Open and Green Spaces Community Interest Company, argued that the council had failed to apply the presumption against developments that harm heritage assets, contained within section 66(1) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990. It was also alleged that the project conflicted with the unitary development plan.

In quashing the permission, Mr Justice Kerr noted that the officer had failed to inform councillors that the council’s own urban design and heritage conservation team had expressed strong conservation objections to the erection of three of the proposed houses within the grounds and setting of Beechley House.

Although the officer’s report had stated that “clear and convincing justification” was required for any harm to heritage assets, omissions in the document had created a false and misleading impression, the judge ruled.

The judge found that the council had also misinterpreted and misapplied a unitary development plan policy that sought to protect the open character, landscape and recreational and ecological quality of green wedges in the city, including Calderstones Park. The house building proposals were in clear conflict with that policy, but that had neither been expressly acknowledged in the officer’s report, nor expressly considered by the planning committee, the judge said.

The council argued that the planning permission should not be overturned on the basis that, following a reconsideration, the outcome would inevitably be the same. The judge, however, noted that he could not be sure what the decision would have been had it been lawfully made.

The housing permission, as well as permission to relocate a model railway currently on the site, were both subsequently quashed.

Earlier this month, a building materials company succeeded in a High Court challenge to overturn a planning consent for a residential barn conversion near its asphalt plant after a judge found that local authority officers had failed to adequately address noise concerns.

In November 2018, a High Court judge overturned consent for a new west London hotel after she concluded that Hammersmith and Fulham councillors were “significantly misled” by a planning report that misinterpreted guidance on loss of light.

23 January 2019