Seven key messages from court judgements since the new year

Several important issues of principle have been explored in rulings handed down in the past six months.

London's Royal Courts of Justice
London's Royal Courts of Justice

1. Councils may extend determination periods for prior approval, a ruling on a scheme in West Sussex implies.

Upholding an appeal against refusal of prior approval applications for 75 apartments, the High Court supported the secretary of state’s contention that the 56-day time limit for such decisions specified in the General Permitted Development Order 2015 may be extended by agreement between the parties. Case: Gluck v Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government; Date: 31 January 2020; Ref: [2020] EWHC 161 (Admin)

2. National policy sets no requirement to consider visual impact on green belt but it can still be relevant.

Ruling on a challenge to permission for a quarry extension in the North Yorkshire green belt, the Supreme Court found no express requirement in national planning policy to take visual quality into account in green belt decisions but said it could still be a relevant factor for decision-makers in exercising their planning judgement. Case: R (Samuel Smith Old Brewery) v North Yorkshire County Council; Date: 5 February 2020; Ref: [2020] UKSC3

3. Plan policies are to be treated as relevant in applying the tilted balance in national policy to decisions.

In rejecting a developer’s challenges to inspectors’ decisions to refuse planning permission for housing schemes in Northamptonshire and Essex, the High Court held that while some National Planning Policy Framework policies may expressly exclude consideration of development plan policies in assessing planning proposals, this does not apply to assessment of the tilted balance in favour of sustainable development set out in paragraph 11(d)(ii). Case: Gladman Developments Ltd v Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government; Date: 6 March 2020; Ref: [2020] EWHC 518 (Admin)

4. Assessing interplay between relevant development plan policies is a matter of planning judgement.

The Court of Appeal ruled that a Cornwall Council planning officer struck an appropriate balance between development plan policies pulling in different directions in recommending planning approval for an extension to a caravan park in an area of great landscape value (AGLV), finding that neither policy took priority. One policy supported sustainable tourism but another sought to conserve and enhance AGLV character. Case: Corbett v Cornwall Council; Date: 9 April 2020; Ref: [2020] EWCA Civ 508

5. Neighbourhood planning bodies have legal authority to challenge local authority development plans.

The High Court concluded that a Leeds neighbourhood forum, as a local body with a constitution and purposes related to the area’s proper planning, had the legal standing to challenge the adoption of a site allocations plan. Its subsequent challenge to the allocation of housing sites in the green belt was successful in June. Case: Aireborough Neighbourhood Development Forum v Leeds City Council; Date: 14 January 2020; Ref: [2020] EWHC 45 (Admin)

6. Councils need to take care in the documents they take into account in assessing lawful development claims.

In upholding an inspector’s decision that the lawful use of a caravan site in Norfolk extended to permanent mobile homes, the High Court rejected the council’s attempts to support its case by reference to background documents submitted in support of the original lawful development certificate application for the site. Case: Breckland District Council v Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government; Date: 27 January 2020; Ref: CO/1919/2019

7. Ministers cannot ignore international obligations in decisions on nationally significant infrastructure.

The Court of Appeal held that the government failed to observe its commitment to the Paris Agreement on climate change when it issued its airports national policy statement backing a third runway at Heathrow, particularly given the volume of previous ministerial statements reiterating this commitment. Case: Plan B Earth v Secretary of State for Transport; Date: 27 February 2020; Ref: [2020] EWCA Civ 214

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