It is not exactly news that 'reasons' challenges against planning permissions have become fashionable again of late - in fact we had a Supreme Court decision highlighting the importance of reasoned decision making not all that long ago...*
That said, the trend for High Court decisions insisting that planning decisions are not only thought through, but are seen to be thought through is clearly continuing into 2018.
In the last month we have seen two further court decisions upholding the need for reasoned decision making - which have been neatly summarised by Planning Resource (see below). In isolation, both cases seem to make fairly obvious points.
In Shepway the Planning Committee granted consent for a fairly significant development in an area of outstanding natural beauty against Officer's recommendation; but without clearly stating why.
The Judge concluded that the Committee Members could not rely on the planning officer's report to support their decision whilst simultaneously rejecting its conclusions. Clear and comprehensible reasons for the Committee reaching an alternative decision should have been provided and, as they were not, the decision was unlawful.
In Maldon** the facts were a little more unusual, in that the decision being made, to approve a reserved matters application, was made by the Chief Executive of the Council on the basis of a summary report which did not contain any of the supporting information that might be needed to come to a conclusion.
In particular the Judgment notes that the Chief Executive was not provided with:
- the Officer's Report or the Member's Update reporting on the application;
- the application documents or the plans and drawings that she was being recommended to approve; or
- any summary or description of the proposals or the representations made in relation to them
Not entirely surprisingly, the Judge took the view that in order for a planning decision to be lawful, the decision maker needs to have at least some familiarity with the proposed development, and quashed the decision as a result.
Whilst none of this appears to be rocket science, more and more of these types of cases seem to be making their way through the Courts. Perhaps these two most recent cases can stand as a timely reminder to all of us of the need to show our working, from time to time, and not just the jump straight to the answer....
**Neutral Citation Number:  EWHC 212 (Admin)
overturning the permission, she ruled that the committee had given inadequate reasons for its decision. Having rejected the planning officers’ views, councillors could not rely on his report as supporting their conclusions.... And the minutes of the meeting were by themselves insufficient to dispel the "substantial doubt" over the committee's decision.... "The defect in reasons goes to the heart of the justification for the planning permission and undermines its validity,"... The planning permission was quashed and the council was ordered to pay £22,750 in costs. Earlier this month, the High Court overturned an Essex home approval due to a lack of a "reasoned explanation". And shortly before Christmas, the Supreme Court ruled that local planning authorities must give reasons for granting planning permission when fairness so requires. R on the Application of Steer v Shepway District Council. Case Number: CO/3051/2017