Erroneous planning decisions used inappropriate language

Oast Houses in Kent

A member of the planning support team, working to ‘test’ new planning application software, has accidentally published test planning decisions. In September, the Mid Kent planning support team was testing the solution of a software problem that lay behind the public access site when it accidentally published a number of planning decisions. The published decisions included approvals for the demolition of two pubs and the rejection of other planning applications.

Owner of The Happy Pants Ranch animal rescue centre in Newington, Amey James, said, on reading the decision, that she “nearly had a heart attack”. After waiting for a decision on its planning application for six months, the application for retrospective planning to change the use of land from agricultural to animal rescue was rejected, with the reasons given as ‘your proposal is whack’ and ‘no mate, proper whack’. The word is used to mean ‘very bad’ in street slang.

Last orders were called in planning applications to demolish two pubs, The Old House and Home in Sheerness and the Wheatsheaf pub in Sittingbourne, which were permitted, the reasons given ‘Why. Am. I.’ and ‘Incy. Wincy. Spider.’ And in Sittingbourne, the change of use of a butchers shop to a hot food takeaway was refused with the reasons ‘Just dont’ and ‘No’.

Wanshurst Green Farm in Battle had its application to convert and refurbish an outbuilding into a one bedroom holiday let and a new single storey front extension refused, with the reasons ‘don’t even bother re-applying lol’ and ‘not even joking lmao’.

There are legal implications for all of the approved and rejected planning applications. Once published, the decisions are legally binding, meaning the council must pay the costs of correcting them. The decisions must be overturned by a court, which Swale Borough Council says will take at least three months and an estimated £8,000 bill to rectify the mistakes.

Maidstone Borough Council’s leader, David Burton, said the actions were “regrettable” and apologised if any offence had been caused.

In a statement, Swale Borough Council said that the recipients of the erroneous decisions had been notified, and the applications now contain a “Statement on Erroneous Planning Decisions”:

“Swale Borough Council will be seeking to quash five planning decisions that were issued in error.

“On August 19, officers for Mid Kent Planning Support team were testing a solution for issues with the software behind the public access site. During this testing an error occurred, which published dummy decision notices on five randomly selected Swale applications on the live system.

“After being alerted to the mistake, the dummy decisions were removed from the site, but legal advice has subsequently confirmed they are legally binding and must be overturned before the correct decisions are made.

“The Leader and Deputy Leader of Swale Borough Council say they are angered and frustrated that an administrative error by staff working in the Mid Kent shared planning service has led to the issuing of false planning decision notices.

“In addition to the incorrect decisions, some of the dummy text used to test the software was not appropriate for publication, including derogatory comments about the quality of the applications. This language was used by a junior officer with no knowledge of any of the applications, who believed they were working solely in a test environment and that the comments would never be published.

“An investigation is underway to understand exactly what happened to ensure that lessons are learned and any necessary action in relation to the conduct of officers involved is taken. The quickest legal way to deal with the issue is to use the judicial review process to have the decisions quashed through a judicial review. This is not uncommon and, if uncontested, could be complete in two to three months.

“We have notified each of the applicants of the error and will continue to liaise with them as the matter progresses.”