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Fairness and Public Participation in the Planning Process

country house, farmIn a case which raised novel issues in respect of public participation in the planning process, the Court of Appeal has opened the way for a controversial housing development despite objectors’ arguments that they suffered unfairness.

A local authority had refused consent for construction of 100 homes on farmland. The would-be developer appealed to a planning inspector and the matter proceeded before him for three days before it was discovered that, due to an oversight by the council, public objectors had not been notified of the date of the hearing.

The inspector’s response was to abandon the hearing so that objectors could be properly notified. He subsequently convened a second hearing and, after listening to a day of argument, allowed the developers’ appeal and granted planning permission. The objectors challenged that decision, which was overturned by the High Court on the basis that what had happened amounted to procedural unfairness.

In allowing an appeal brought by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, and reinstating the inspector’s decision, the Court of Appeal found that he had been ‘scrupulously fair’ to objectors. He had ‘started again’ at the second hearing and it was clear that objectors, who had no automatic right to be heard, had nevertheless been given the opportunity to raise ‘a myriad of points’.