School permission upheld despite screening error

Hertfordshire County Council's failure to adequately consider heritage impact in a screening opinion on a new secondary school in the green belt does not justify quashing the permission, the High Court has ruled.

The education authority had applied for permission for the school, playing fields, tennis courts, a multi-use games area and parking on 17 hectares of farmland. A local resident asserted that two screening opinions provided under the Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2011 and 2017 were defective. He claimed that the first, issued before the application was submitted, was defective because it failed to give adequate consideration to the scheme’s effect on green belt openness. He argued that the second, issued following submission of the application, was flawed because it failed to mention impact on 14 Anglo-Saxon graves considered to have significant heritage value.

Mrs Justice Lang held that the first opinion had adequately considered the likely impact on openness, since this in part was a matter of professional judgement. She accepted that the second opinion had overlooked the effects on the archaeological remains, whose importance was confirmed by a report submitted with the planning application. On this basis, she held, there had been a breach of regulation 5(4) of the 2017 regulations and the planning authority should have concluded that the proposal was likely to have significant effects.

However, the judge noted that the school’s impact on the graves had been fully investigated and considered by a planning officer when the application was reported to committee. She saw no reason to believe that a different outcome would have arisen had an environmental statement been sought and submitted and concluded that the relief sought – namely, the quashing of the permission – was not justified. Delivery of the school had already been substantially delayed by the case, she noted.

Cairns v Hertfordshire County Council

Date: 2 August 2018

Ref: [2018] EWHC 2050 (Admin)

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