Q & A 11.4/10
My council is currently looking at an application for a hostel and considering whether fear of crime can be a material consideration. In the case in hand the fear is not backed up by substantive evidence, but is clearly an issue for local residents. Case law seems to suggest that even unjustified fears may be a material consideration. Is there a definitive ruling on this?
As you say, the courts have addressed this question, holding that public fear and apprehension about the impact of a development is capable of being a land use related material consideration even when not rational or fact based. This means that such fears must be taken on board in the balance of decision making. However, at the end of the day the actual weight that the decision maker may give to public apprehension is a matter of judgment having regard to all the facts of a particular case. Currently this matter is a live issue in the telecommunications field, and it is of note that earlier this year the secretary of state submitted to judgment when an appeal decision relating to a mast in a residential area was challenged in the High Court. Here an inspector had reasoned that resident's fears of health hazards from the installation were misplaced having regard to the scientific evidence, but he dismissed the appeal on the basis that if allowed it would serve as a constant reminder of their concerns. Clearly this is a sensitive area of decision making which will continue to give rise to tensions, and it would be helpful if clear ministerial advice was available.