COUNCILS which allow people to submit planning and other applications online will need to to tighten up their regulations following a £1 million court case that has been lost by Scottish Borders Council.

The case of Ramoyle Developments against the Council turned on the meaning of the word “submit”.

Ramoyle had used the council’s online portal system to submit a planning application for a mixed development at a site in Galashiels.

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The sale of the site by the council for £1m was conditional on that application being submitted by November 22, 2017.

The online application was submitted two days before the deadline, but the council said the cheque for the £2800 fee for the application was not received until December 1.

The council decided that as the fee had not been paid in time, the conditions for the sale had not been met and they were entitled to rescind the sale. Earlier this week, judge Lord Ericht ruled in the Court of Session that Ramoyle had submitted the application timeously.

Lawyers for the council had argued that the fee was “a necessary part of such an application” but in his written judgement Lord Ericht stated: “In my opinion, the successful submission of an application under the system used by the planning authority for online submission satisfies the requirement to submit an application.

“This is in accordance with the natural and ordinary meaning of the word submit.

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Lord Ericht added: “In addition, in my opinion, it makes commercial common sense in this digital age for the pursuer to use the planning authority’s online submission system and comply with the provisions of that system.

“That system provided that an application is successfully submitted prior to payment of the fee by cheque.

“Accordingly, I find that the successful submission of the planning application through the online planning portal on November 20, 2017 constituted submission, notwithstanding that the fee had not been received at that time. The consequence of this is that the defenders were not entitled to rescind.”

A council spokesperson said: “We are considering the verdict and our options.”

A planning expert who asked not to be named as he has business with the council told The National that the online portal systems used by many councils needed to be more definite about payments and fees.

He said: “Many councils, including Scottish Borders, allow payment by credit or debit card, by cheque or over the phone.

“The judge has effectively concluded that an application on the portal is a separate matter from the payment of the application fee.

“Councils need to tighten up their systems to take account of this decision, not least because there are thousands of pounds going to local authorities in application fees every week.

“Surely in this day and age a system could be devised so that applications and fees are done at the same time for the avoidance of doubt.”