Robert Williams

Call: 2008

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Rob is a public law specialist, with a particular expertise in planning and environmental law.

He frequently appears in the higher courts in judicial review and statutory challenges. In addition to his court work, Rob is regularly instructed to act in planning inquiries on behalf of both private parties and local authorities.

Currently appointed to the Attorney General’s A panel of counsel, he was previously on the B panel for a period of five years.

Rob has also been appointed by the Department for Transport as one of six counsel promoting the HS2 Hybrid Bill through Parliament.

Rob has developed a broad public law practice, with an emphasis on planning and environmental matters.

Recent cases and inquiries in which Rob has acted include:

Court work

  • Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government v Ikram [2021] EWCA Civ 2Acting on behalf of the Secretary of State in a statutory appeal to a planning inspector’s decision to quash an enforcement notice, and grant permission for use of a building as a mosque. The central issues included the extent to which subsequent planning obligations are capable of remedying defects in conditions.
  • R (oao Wyeth-Price) v Guildford Borough Council [2020] EWHC 3355Appearing on behalf of the local planning authority in a judicial review of a grant of planning permission for a residential scheme. A wide range of grounds were advanced, including the alleged failure to properly apply the statutory duty concerning listed buildings.
  • RSBS Developments Ltd v Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government [2020] EWHC 3077Acting for the Secretary of State in a statutory appeal against the decision of an inspector to uphold an enforcement notice requiring the cessation of residential use of a building. It raised a novel point of law: namely the application of Article 3(5) of the General Permitted Development Order to grants of planning permission by prior approval.
  • Test Valley Borough Council v Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government [2020] EWHC 3158 – Appearing for the claimant in a statutory challenge to the decision of a planning inspector to grant permission for the storage use of land. The decision was challenged on the basis that the conditions attached to the permission were deficient, leading to a disconnect between that which had been assessed and that which was granted.
  • Old Sarum Airfield Ltd v Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government [2020] EWHC 2112 – Acting for the Secretary of State in a statutory challenge to an inspector’s decision to refuse planning permission for a mixed-use development on a heritage airfield. The case concerned inter alia the extent of the duty to give reasons in planning appeals.

Planning appeals

  • Pump Lane, Medway (2021) – 6-week inquiry. Proposed mixed-use development, including 1250 homes. Recovered for determination by the Secretary of State. Acting on behalf of local planning authority.
  • Wye College, Ashford (2021) – 2-week inquiry. Three conjoined appeals, including the proposed redevelopment of Grade I listed, 15th century chantry college. Acted for the Parish Council.
  • Mitchelswood Farm, Lewes (2020) – multiple-week inquiry. Proposed residential development in countryside location. Recovered for determination by the Secretary of State and remitted following the Court of Appeal’s decision in DLA Delivery Ltd v Baroness Cumberlege of Newick [2018] EWCA Civ 1305. Acted on behalf of local planning authority.
  • West Malling, Tonbridge & Malling (2019) – 2-week inquiry concerning a proposed development immediately adjacent to West Malling Abbey, which Historic England recognised as having “outstanding national significance”. Acted for the Parish Council.

Local Plan examinations

  • Braintree Part 2 Local Plan – for the promoting authority.
  • Tonbridge and Malling Local Plan – for the promoting authority (with Wayne Beglan).
  • North Essex Authorities Strategic Local Plans (2020) – for the promoting authorities (with Michael Bedford QC).
  • Guildford Local Plan (2019) – for the promoting authority (with James Findlay QC).
  • Central Bedfordshire Local Plan (2019) – for a developer/objector.
  • Nuneaton Local Plan (2019) – for a developer/objector.

Rob was called to the Bar in 2008, having previously read law at University College London, where he obtained a first-class degree (top in the year).

Expertise

  • Planning and Environment

    Rob has a wide-ranging planning practice.

    His recent inquiries have related to a wide range of proposals including for residential developments, mixed-use proposals, windfarms, listed buildings, mineral extraction, education facilities and retail developments.

    Rob also has significant experience of appearing at Local Plan examinations, acting on behalf of both local planning authorities and objectors.

    He often appears in judicial review and statutory challenges to planning decisions in the higher courts acting for private parties, local authorities and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.

    Recent and notable court work in the Planning Court includes:

    • Thame Town Council v Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government [2021] EWHC 291 – Acting on behalf of the Secretary of State in a statutory challenge to a planning inspector’s decision to grant planning permission for a mixed-use scheme. The case concerned inter alia the proper interpretation and application of local planning policy.
    • Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government v Ikram [2021] EWCA Civ 2 – Acting on behalf of the Secretary of State in a statutory appeal to a planning inspector’s decision to quash an enforcement notice, and grant permission for use of a building as a mosque. The central issues included the extent to which subsequent planning obligations are capable of remedying defects in conditions.
    • R (oao Wyeth-Price) v Guildford Borough Council [2020] EWHC 3355 – Appearing on behalf of the local planning authority in a judicial review of a grant of planning permission for a residential scheme. A wide range of grounds were advanced, including the alleged failure to properly apply the statutory duty concerning listed buildings.
    • RSBS Developments Ltd v Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government [2020] EWHC 3077 – Acting for the Secretary of State in a statutory appeal against the decision of an inspector to uphold an enforcement notice requiring the cessation of residential use of a building. It raised a novel point of law: namely the application of Article 3(5) of the General Permitted Development Order to grants of planning permission by prior approval.
    • Test Valley Borough Council v Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government [2020] EWHC 3158 – Appearing for the claimant in a statutory challenge to the decision of a planning inspector to grant permission for the storage use of land. The decision was challenged on the basis that the conditions attached to the permission were deficient, leading to a disconnect between that which had been assessed and that which was granted.
    • Old Sarum Airfield Ltd v Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government [2020] EWHC 2112 – Acting for the Secretary of State in a statutory challenge to an inspector’s decision to refuse planning permission for a mixed-use development on a heritage airfield. The case concerned inter alia the extent of the duty to give reasons in planning appeals.
    • Thorpe Hall Leisure Ltd v Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government [2020] EWHC 44 – Acting for the Interested Party in a challenge to an inspector’s refusal to grant planning permission for a large residential development. The central issue was the proper interpretation of guidance issued by Natural England.
    • Compton Parish Council (and others) v Guildford Borough Council [2019] EWHC 3242 – Appearing (with James Findlay QC) for Guildford BC in three conjoined statutory challenges to the adoption of the Local Plan. There were a wide range of grounds of challenge, most notably whether the examining inspector and the local authority had taken the proper approach when determining whether there were “exceptional circumstances” for removing land from the Green Belt.
    • Leeds City Council v Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government [2019] EWHC 682 (Admin) ¬– Acting on behalf of the Secretary of State in a challenge to an inspector’s decision to grant planning permission for a residential development. The case raised novel issues about Green Belt policy and, specifically, the concept of “safeguarded land”.

    Planning appeals

    Recent and notable examples of Rob’s inquiry work includes:

    • Mitchelswood Farm, Lewes (2020) – multiple-week inquiry. Proposed residential development in countryside location. Recovered for determination by the Secretary of State and remitted following the Court of Appeal’s decision in DLA Delivery Ltd v Baroness Cumberlege of Newick [2018] EWCA Civ 1305. Acted on behalf of local planning authority.
    • West Malling, Tonbridge & Malling (2019) – 2-week inquiry concerning a proposed development immediately adjacent to West Malling Abbey, which Historic England recognised as having “outstanding national significance”. Acted for the Parish Council.
    • Brompton Farm, Medway (2018) – 2-week inquiry concerning proposed residential development in the Green Belt. Acted on behalf of local planning authority.
    • Andover Business Park, Test Valley (2018) – represented the LPA in a 6-day inquiry on the issue of whether a planning obligation which barred lorries from using certain highway routes was necessary and met the Reg 122 tests.
    • Buckles Wood Farm, North Chailey (2018) – appeared on behalf of the promoter of a 35-unit housing scheme at a five-day inquiry, raising issues including the relative sustainability of the proposal in an area where there are significant environmental constraints.
    • Tamworth Farmhouse, Reigate (2018) – acted for a Rule 6 party/neighbour in a seven-day enforcement inquiry raising a wide range of issues including the validity of the notice, immunity from enforcement,  and impact on Green Belt vehicle depot.
    • Longdene House, Waverley (2017) – represented Waverley Borough Council in a four-day Inquiry in relation to a proposal for a 29 dwelling scheme in the Surrey Hills AONB. Acting for the Council in their statutory challenge to the grant of permission.
    • Parsonage Barn, East Hampshire DC (2017) – acted for a developer proposing an exemplary home in the South Downs National Park on the basis of the “exceptional quality and innovative nature of the design” (para 55 of the NPPF).
    • Hifynydd Wind Farm (2015) –  acted for Neath Port Talbot CBC in a long-running appeal against the refusal by the Council to grant planning permission for a 9 turbine Wind Farm. The Wind Farm was proposed to be located above the Aberpergwm Coal Mine. The appeal called for a balance to be struck between benefits of renewable energy and the need to avoid the sterilisation of important mineral resources.
    • Mynydd Marchywel windfarm [2015] P.A.D 26 –  represented the LPAin a two-week planning Inquiry following a refusal to grant permission for a wind farm straddling a Strategic Search Area boundary. The appeal was refused, with the Inspector accepting that the harm to landscape character, visual amenity and heritage interests outweighed the benefits of the scheme.
    • New Barnfield Energy from Waste Inquiry (2013) – appeared as junior to Mark Lowe QC on behalf of Hertfordshire County Council in a seven-week inquiry into a proposed Energy from Waste plant. This controversial proposal covered a wide variety of issues including UK and European Waste Policy; UK and European renewable energy policy; Green Belt; heritage impacts; traffic and highway and landscape and visual impacts.

    Local Plan examinations 

    Rob appears for both promoting authorities and private clients at Local Plan examinations:

    • Braintree Part 2 Local Plan (ongoing) – for the promoting authority.
    • Tonbridge and Malling Local Plan (ongoing) – for the promoting authority (with Wayne Beglan).
    • North Essex Authorities Strategic Local Plans (2020) – for the promoting authorities (with Michael Bedford QC).
    • Guildford Local Plan (2019) – for the promoting authority (with James Findlay QC).
    • Central Bedfordshire Local Plan (2019) – for a developer/objector.
    • Nuneaton Local Plan (2019) – for a developer/objector.
    • Craven Local Plan (2018) – for a developer/objector.
    • Hart Local Plan (2018) – for developer/objector.
    • West Sussex Minerals (2017) – for a landowner/objector.
    • Waverley Local Plan Part 1 examination (2017) – for the promoting authority (with Wayne Beglan).

    Environmental law

    Rob has experience in a wide range of environmental matters, including:

    • Wind farms – both resisting and promoting wind farm schemes. Rob has a particular expertise in relation to wind farm proposals in Wales, having appeared in four separate public inquiries into wind farms in Wales within the last two years
    • Energy from waste – appeared with Mark Lowe QC in a 7-week inquiry into a proposed energy from waste plant in Hertfordshire. This controversial proposal covered a wide variety of issues including UK and European Waste Policy; UK and European renewable energy policy; Green Belt; heritage impacts; traffic and highway and landscape and visual impacts.
    • Minerals – appeared for the LPA in a wind farm planning inquiry (Hifynydd Wind Farm) which called for a balance to be struck between benefits of renewable energy and the need to avoid the sterilisation of important mineral resources.  He has also appeared at examinations into Minerals Local Plans
    • Nuclear energy – acted as part of a team of three barristers from chambers who advised on an application to the (then) Infrastructure Planning Commission in relation to the development of a Nuclear Power Station at Hinkley Point C.
    • Eco-homes – successfully represented a developer proposing an “eco-home” in the countryside on the basis of the ‘exceptional quality and innovative nature of the design’. A key part of this finding was the energy-efficient design of the proposal. Rob had advised on the scheme from a very early stage.
    • Oil  –  advised the owners of Wytch Farm Oilfields, one of the largest onshore oilfields in the UK, in relation to the planning and enforcement law implications of their proposals for increased extraction.
    • HS2 – As significant part of Rob’s role in relation to HS2 involves advising on the Environmental Statement for the UK’s largest infrastructure project

    Compulsory Purchase Orders

    Rob has an expertise in Compulsory Purchase Orders, and is experienced in all stages of the CPO process from drafting of the order and statement of reasons, through to compensation and enforcement matters. For example, from 2014 to 2017, he acted for Canterbury City Council, RSPB and Natural England in relation to the compulsory purchase of the Whitstable Bay Estate, and appeared at the inquiry in 2016.

  • Public Law and Judicial Review

    Rob has a particular interest in administrative and public law and, given the nature of his practice, public law issues pervade much of his work.

    As a member of the Attorney General’s ‘B’ Panel, Rob regularly appears in the Administrative and Planning Courts on behalf of government departments. He has also appeared in the higher courts, including the Court of Appeal, on behalf of private parties, and other public bodies.

    Rob has experience of judicial and statutory review  in the following areas:

    • Administrative law, including local government
    • Planning (s.113, s.288, s.289 & Judicial Review)
    • Immigration and asylum

    Many of the cases in which Rob has been involved have raised human rights issues and he is used to addressing domestic, European and international jurisprudence in relation to such matters.

    Recent examples of his work which have raised judicial review principles include:

    • Relta Ltd v Greater London Authority [2017] EWHC 671 (Admin) – appeared for the GLA in respect of a judicial review challenge to the decision by the London of Mayor to designated Bromley Town Centre as a Housing Zone. The claim raised issues of interpretation and application of the Mayor’s policy.
    • R (on the application of Tracey) v SSHD [2017] EWHC 1327 (Admin) – represented SSHD in a judicial review challenge to the deportation of an immigrant on the grounds that he had been given inadequate notice of his removal. The claim was dismissed.
    • R (on the application of Headcorn Parish Council) v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government [2017] EWHC 970 – represented SSCLG in a judicial review challenge to the Secretary of State’s screening direction in respect of a proposed housing development. It raised issues of the proper approach to material considerations, as well as the approach to “significant environmental effects” under the EIA Directive. The claim was dismissed.
    • Licensed Taxi Drivers Association v Transport for London [2016] EWHC 233 – appeared (together with Mark Lowe QC) in a judicial review challenge to the construction of the East-West Cycle Superhighway.
    • R (on the application of Ali) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2015] EWHC 7 – Rob successfully defended a judicial review claim in which it was alleged that the Secretary of State’s decision to grant limited (rather than indefinite) leave to remain to the Claimant was contrary to her duties pursuant to section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 (the best interest duty).
    • Dick v Wandle Housing Association (unreported) – successfully resisted a judicial review application in which the Claimant contended that the decision by the Housing Association to refuse her transfer request was unlawful on public law grounds, including by being in breach of their own policy.
    • Leeds Group Plc v (1) Leeds City Council; (2) Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, (3) Jones [2012] 1 WLR 1561 – A judicial review in which the appellant argued that to apply the definition of a Town and Village Green brought in by the CROW Act 2000 to use of land prior to that enactment would be contrary to the presumption against retrospective legislation and breach their Protocol 1, Article 1 ECHR rights. Rob successfully appeared for the interested party, making both written and oral submissions to the Court of Appeal.
  • Property

    As an adjunct to his planning and compulsory purchase practice, Robert advises on matters of property law.

    His experience includes:

    • Claims for compensation under the Land Compensation Act 1961 following compulsory purchase
    • Adverse possession/prescription claims
    • Trespass claims
    • Advising on the interpretation of leases and covenants
    • Advising on the rights and liabilities of landowners in relation to watercourses
    • Advising on the merits of a defence to a combined judicial review/application to amend registration of a Village Green
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