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Court of Appeal Calls for Use of Plain English in Planning Decisions

Those whose livelihoods are at stake are entitled to be told, in common language, the reasons for planning decisions which affect them. The Court of Appeal made that point abundantly clear as it overturned a compulsory purchase order (CPO) in respect of a historic street market.

The market, opened in 1914, was home to 137 ethnically diverse retail pitches which sold everything from clothes and food to household appliances. However, there was no dispute that the market and its surrounding area needed regeneration and the local authority granted outline consent for a redevelopment of the locale, including more than 200 new homes.

The permission was subject to various conditions which were designed to ensure the continued viability of the market and detailed consultation with its management steering group. However, when the council issued the CPO in order to facilitate the development, hundreds of objections were received amidst concerns that stallholders would be charged exorbitant rents in future.

Following a public inquiry, a government inspector agreed with the stallholders and refused to recommend approval of the CPO. However, she was overruled by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and a challenge to that decision, brought by the market tenants’ association, was rejected by the High Court.

In allowing the association’s appeal, however, the Court of Appeal found that the Secretary of State had failed to give adequate reasons for his decision. Whilst the project would bring improvements to the area’s economy and physical environment, there remained concerns that insufficient guarantees and safeguards were in place in order to ensure the market’s future physical and financial integrity.

In a plea for plain English to be used in planning decisions, the Court observed that they should be couched in terms that ordinary citizens can comprehend. The market traders’ livelihoods were under threat and they were entitled to have the reasons for the decision clearly explained to them. The matter was sent back to the Secretary of State for fresh consideration.