The vital importance of procedural fairness in administrative decision-making has been underlined by the High Court’s decision to overturn outline planning consent granted by a government inspector for development of 100 new homes on the edge of an Essex village. The Court ruled that objectors to the proposals had not been given a fair opportunity to air their views before the inspector.
Outline consent for the project on the outskirts of Great Dunmow was granted in July 2012 following an appeal by developers to the planning inspectorate. However, opponents to the proposals argued that they had not been properly notified of the date and venue of the public inquiry.
A further hearing before the inspector was organised after the procedural lapse was discovered. However, it was argued that it was over too quickly, raising legitimate concerns that matters discussed at the first hearing did not receive the full reconsideration they deserved with objectors present.
Overturning the inspector’s decision and directing reconsideration of the matter by a fresh inspector, the Court ruled that the decision-making process had been infected by apparent and actual procedural unfairness. Although acknowledging that planning permission may ultimately be re-granted, the Court noted that objectors would at least have the comfort of knowing that full consideration would be given to their views at the new inquiry.