The Supreme Court has ruled that in cases where planning permission is granted, reasons for the grant of such planning permission may be required to be given, even where there is no statutory duty to do so. The cases of Dover DC v Campaign to Protect Rural England (2017) and Oakley v South Cambridgeshire District Council (2017) both centred around circumstances where planning permission was granted in the face of public opposition and against the advice of planning officers.
Lord Carnwath stated that ‘such decisions call for public explanation not just because of their immediate impact; but also because they are likely to have lasting relevance for the application of policy in future cases’.
Local Government Protocol
The Local Government Model Council Planning Code and Protocol (2013 update) requires planning committee members to understand the planning reasons leading to the decision in question. In light of the protocol the Court held that there was nothing unduly burdensome in requiring members of a planning committee to provide reasons for their decision in those cases where such reasons could not be gathered from the published documents.
Whether reasons are required to be provided is to be determined in all cases by reference to whether the reasons for the planning committee’s decision leaves any doubt as to what has been decided and why.
While Lord Carnwath was confident that local planning authorities would have no problem in identifying cases which would call for reasons for the decision to be given, the position in practice is unlikely to be so straightforward. Each planning application will need to be examined on its merits and there is likely to be uncertainty as to what particular combination of factors will call for reasons to be given.
In light of recent cases, local authorities should err on the side of caution in all but the most straightforward of cases. Where a planning committee grants a planning permission against officer advice or the development plan, the committee is advised to set out separate reasons for its decision in written form.
It will remain to be seen whether such a requirement and the failure to satisfy it leads to a greater number of challenges to committee decisions, but planning officers will need to ensure that they are alive to the requirement for their committee members to provide adequate reasons for any decision made contrary to their advice.
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