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Planning Inquiries and Natural Justice

Open landIn an important ruling which will have a significant impact on the future conduct of planning inquiries, the Court of Appeal has ruled that an inspector did not act unfairly or in breach of natural justice when dealing with proposals for construction of 58 new homes on a rural site.

The would-be developer had appealed to the inspector after planning permission was refused by the local authority. Whilst accepting that the council had failed to establish a five-year supply of deliverable housing sites – a factor which militated in favour of a grant of consent – the inspector dismissed the appeal on sustainability grounds and on the basis that the proposals would unacceptably detract from the tranquil and rural character of the area.

The inspector’s decision was subsequently overturned by the High Court on grounds that she had not identified sustainability or character and appearance as ‘main issues’ prior to the inquiry. The developer successfully argued that it had thus been denied a fair opportunity to address those issues, which ultimately proved decisive.

In overturning that decision, the Court of Appeal found that the sustainability issue was the subject of evidence and argument during the inquiry and that the developer had been afforded a fair chance to deal with the matter. The developer was also aware that character and appearance were significant issues and it was a matter which the inspector would self-evidently take into account after she conducted a site visit.

In the circumstances, there had been neither procedural unfairness nor any breach of natural justice. The appeal by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government was allowed and the case was remitted to the High Court for consideration of the developer’s further grounds of challenge to the inspector’s decision.