It is very hard to find an upside to being stuck on a Southern Rail train for three hours. That said, my nightmare journey to work today did give me a chance to read the Supreme Court's decision in Dover DC v Campaign to Protect Rural England (Kent) [2017] UKSC 79 - which I am choosing to count as a silver lining to what was otherwise a rather dark, cold and depressing cloud.

For those who aren't stuck on a train, Cornerstone Barristers have produced a very readable case note, which can be accessed from the link at the bottom of this post. 

The overall gist of the Supreme Court decision is that whilst there is no general blanket common-law or statutory duty for Councils to give reasons for their decisions; it is important that planning decisions are comprehensible to the public.

In short, it should be possible for the average person looking at a planning decision (be it the decision notice, the committee report or the minutes of the meeting),  to understand why it was made. 

Where a planning committee agrees with the recommendation of the planning officer,  this ruling is unlikely to make that much difference. As the detailed reasoning will be contained in the Officer's Report and the recommendation to the committee. Where a decision is likely to go against officer recommendation, however, it is possible that more care will need to be taken over explaining precisely why the committee members disagree. 

Whilst this may add some additional delay into an already lengthy process, I can't really fault the logic of the decision. Given the significance that planning decisions can have, both for the applicant and the wider community, it only seems fair they are comprehensible and the reasoning behind them is  capable of being understood.

That said, I would not necessarily hold out much hope that the return of reasons will add much to the system as it currently stands; nor reduce much of its perceived unpredictability. 

The Supreme Court has only ruled on the importance of providing reasons for a decision. They have yet to dictate that the decision has to make sense.... 


p.s. If you want to read the decision in full, it can be found using the following link. It is only 26 pages long and extremely well written, so worth perusing the next time you are suffering a commute from hell.

https://www.supremecourt.uk/cases/docs/uksc-2016-0188-judgment.pdf