Carmarthenshire County Council has settled a judicial review challenge over an amended decision notice in relation to proposed barn conversions, admitting that there were "some defects in the process".
The local authority has agreed to a court order which quashed the notice. It will also pay £24,000 in legal costs.
The Pumpkin Patch Cookery & Gardening School, owned by food writer Lisa Fearn, submitted an application for a barn conversion of two barns on the property near Nantgaredig in 2016.
In the initial planning application registered in September 2016, the proposed development near Nantgaredig was described as including a “Canolfan Sgiliau Bywyd a Ysgol Goginio” (Life Skills Center and Cookery School) in Barn A, not mentioning a café.
Full permission was granted for the proposal in May 2017.
According to the planning notice, one of the barn’s (Barn A) listed conditions allowed it to be used for a cookery school and for no other purpose (including any purpose in Class D2 of the Schedule to the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987, or in any provision equivalent to that Class in any statutory instrument revoking and re-enacting that Order with or without modification).
However, in February 2018 this notice was superseded with a new planning notice and conditions for Barn A now allowed for a life skills centre and cookery school along with a café as defined under Class A3 of the Schedule to the Town & Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987.
The notice read: “Barn A shall be used as a life skills centre and cookery school as defined under Class D2 of the Schedule to the Town & Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987; along with a café as defined under Class A3 of the Schedule to the Town & Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987. The café use hereby approved shall be used only in so far as it forms an ancillary use to the life skills centre and cookery school and at no time shall an independent A3 café be established.”
An independent party challenged the amended planning notice.
In a statement, Carmarthenshire’s Director of Environment Ruth Mullen acknowledged “that there were some defects in process,” saying: “We have recently settled a judicial review challenging the way in which the authority handled a planning application by a spouse of one of our senior employees, by means of a Consent Order.
“The Consent Order usefully clarified the valid planning permission for the development and that has identified various non-conformities which will now need to be regularised. In that respect we can confirm that we have already received a further planning application, which will in due course be referred to the Planning Committee for determination along with any objections.”
Mullen also mentioned Lisa Fearn’s husband, who is head of property at the council, noting that: “In this particular case the senior employee was not employed in the planning division, had made declarations of interest in relation to the spouse’s planning application and related matters from the outset, and did not interfere with the determination process in any way.”
She added: “We wish to make it clear that employees, or spouses or family of employees, are just as entitled to apply for planning permission or funding support as any other member of the public. We have robust processes in place for declarations of interest to be made to ensure that employees do not handle their own applications in any way, shape or form.”
As of November 2019, a new planning application for a life skills centre and cookery school with visitor accommodation had been made.