By Grainne Cuffe, local democracy reporter
The Archdiocese of Southwark must pay its own costs for an inquiry after its application to force Lewisham Council to cover them was refused.
Last week, following a planning inquiry, the Archdiocese was told it would have to rebuild a school it runs in Sydenham after it failed to comply with planning consent when building it.
Our Lady and St Philip Neri Primary School is expected to be “significantly demolished” and rebuilt to be make it compliant.
In 2016, Lewisham approved plans to demolish the existing buildings on the OLSPN site in Sydenham Road and build a three-storey school in partnership with the Archdiocese.
But after construction began it became clear that the building “varied significantly from the original planning permission granted”, leaving residents, councillors, and the local authority very concerned.
The main issues of contention were to do with design – the type of cladding that was installed, the type and size of windows, the roof, guttering, and drainpipes, external lighting, and air vents.
The height of the building, work on which has since halted, was also a concern.
The Archdiocese submitted a section 73 application, that would allow it to vary the agreed conditions. This was rejected by the council in May 2019.
Lewisham issued an enforcement notice in October of the same year ordering the Archdiocese to either rebuild the school in a way that is compliant (Option A) or make a series of changes to the build, including replacing the cladding and windows with what was originally agreed (Option B).
The inquiry specifically looked into an appeal from the Archdiocese on the enforcement notice, as well as an appeal on its section 73 scheme refusal – both were dismissed by the planning inspector in a decision published on May 12.
During the inquiry it was clarified that Option A requires rebuilding “in accordance with the approved plans”.
“It does not of itself require demolition, although it is of course highly likely that there may be significant demolition in order to achieve Option A,” according to the council.
In a decision published last week inspector Zoë Franks concluded that the “harm caused to the character and appearance of the area by the section 73 scheme would be significant and would not be outweighed by consideration of the best interests of children taken alone”.
She also dismissed the enforcement notice appeal and removed Option B – she said Option A is “clear and precise”.
The Archdiocese applied for the council to cover all or some of its inquiry costs, labelling the planning authority “unreasonable”, having caused “unnecessary or wasted expense”.
It said the council delayed the development “which should clearly be permitted”, made “vague, generalised or inaccurate assertions” about the proposals’ impact, and was slow to act after their appeal was lodged.
But the council urged the planning inspectorate to throw out the costs application.
“The council is firmly of the view that the appeals were not able to be avoided […] this application for costs is fundamentally unreasonable,” Lewisham said in its response, adding both parties should cover their own appeal expenses.
In a decision published on May 17, the inspector said “costs can only be awarded where a party has behaved unreasonably and that unreasonable behaviour has directly caused another party to incur unnecessary or wasted expense in the appeal process”.
“I do not find that the council’s behaviour in refusing the section 73 application or in serving the notice was unreasonable.
“Evidence was presented during the inquiry regarding the harm caused by the existing development and regarding the proposed section 73 scheme which led to the dismissal of that appeal, which whilst not the end of the matter, is indicative of the fact that the council’s decisions were reasonable.
“Irrespective of the earlier discussions with officers, and following the withdrawal of the second reason for refusal, the harm caused by the development and the proposed development was material.
“The council, with the final decision taken by committee, acted within its powers and I do not find that unreasonable behaviour resulting in unnecessary or wasted expense, as described in the Planning Practice Guidance, has been demonstrated in relation to the full award of costs,” she said.
Ms Franks added that she had seen no evidence to indicate that the council “deliberately tried to undermine the applicant’s case by introducing the alternative scheme at the proof of evidence stage”.
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