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No duty to give reasons for a grant of planning permission in the Green Belt contrary to officer advice

In the first case to examine whether a duty to give reasons for a grant of planning permission might arise following the abolition of the statutory requirement to do so in 2013, the High Court has dismissed a challenge against a decision by South Cambridgeshire District Council to grant planning permission for the construction of a 3,000 seat football ground for Cambridge City FC in Oakley v South Cambs DC [2016] EWHC 570 (Admin). The Council was represented in the High Court by Jack Parker of Cornerstone Barristers.

The Claimant submitted that the Council's failure to give reasons for the decision was a breach of the common law principle of fairness in the particular circumstances of the case and notwithstanding that there was no statutory requirement to provide reasons.

The Council's planning committee had decided to grant permission for the development, which was in the Green Belt, contrary to the planning officer's recommendation. The committee had given no reasons for the decision either at the meeting or following it.

The Claimant submitted that a duty to give reasons arose because the planning officer gave comprehensive reasons to substantiate the view that there were no very special circumstances clearly outweighing the harm to the green belt, the planning committee accepted that granting permission would constitute a departure from the development plan and because a similar scheme had previously been considered and rejected through a local plan process.

The Court accepted the Council's submissions that the decision by the planning committee was nothing more than the exercise of a planning judgment and that, in the absence of evidence of a flaw in the decision-making process, mere disagreement on the part of the committee with the judgment of the Council's planning officer was not a matter which called for reasons to be given.

The case is an interesting one, which highlights the particular considerations applicable to planning decisions made by local authorities and stands in contrast to other areas of administrative law, where the court has been more willing to find, as a matter of procedural fairness, that reasons for a particular decision should be given. Even though he dismissed the claim, however, Mr Justice Jay noted that he was not holding that a common law duty to give reasons for the grant of planning permission could never arise, leaving open the possibility that particular circumstances may call for reasons to be given.

For the Judgment, please click here. For more information about the case, please contact Jack, or the planning team at Cornerstone Barristers.