DC Casebook: Waste Management - Fears for regeneration ruled unfounded

Despite local concerns that a waste recovery operation in a deprived area of Liverpool would discourage investment, an inspector has decided that its employment use would aid regeneration.

The inspector recognised that there was strong local feeling about the proposal but concluded that public opposition was not in itself a material consideration. She found no significant environmental harm or detriment to amenity and limited evidence of any material effect on regeneration. The only identified harm, she remarked, was the perceived impact of the proposal.

The inspector noted that Gateshead Metropolitan Borough Council v Secretary of State for the Environment [1994] supported the view that public concern can be a material consideration but cannot be conclusive if it is unjustified. She took the view that fears about the proposal's possible effects on housing investment were unjustified.

She noted, however, that a different finding resulted in Newport County Borough Council v Secretary of State for Wales and Browning Ferris Environmental Services Ltd [1997]. In this case, the courts concluded that a perceived fear by the public could in appropriate, perhaps rare, occasions be a reason for refusing planning permission. In her view, such circumstances did not apply where a proposal was beneficial and acceptable apart from popular misconception and speculation.

She went on to note the proposition from West Midlands Probation Committee v Secretary of State for the Environment and Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council [1997] that justified public concern about emanations from land as a result of its proposed development might be a material consideration. She reasoned that the suggestion that public concerns did not need to be logical to carry weight could not be right, since illogical concerns could not be justified.

The inspector concluded that there was little precedent for turning down development on the sole basis of unjustified perceptions. In any event, she attributed limited weight to largely baseless perceptions. On the other hand, the development would bring important employment and economic advantages and meet an identified need for a waste facility. She gave substantial weight to these considerations and decided that the planning balance clearly favoured the proposal.

Inspector: Elizabeth Ord; Inquiry

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