Inspector not hamstrung on planning appeal by initial statement of main issues

The Town and Country Planning Appeals (Determination by Inspectors) (Inquiries Procedure) (England) Rules 2000 govern planning enquiries. The next case concerned how natural justice operates against the background of those rules.

In Hopkins Developments Ltd v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government [2014] the claimant had wanted to construct 58 dwellings on a site at Wincanton and applied for planning permission. The council refused planning on six grounds, four of which subsequently became inapplicable. The inspector dismissed the appeal. Hopkins had then sought judicial review of the inspector’s decision under section 288 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 on the basis that the inspector had relied on two matters, sustainability and character/appearance, which she had not initially identified as main issues.

So she had not provided the claimant with a reasonable opportunity of addressing determinative issues which resulted in a breach of natural justice.

The Court of Appeal said a statement under rule 7 or rule 16 of the Rules identified what the inspector regarded as the main issues at the time of the statement. However that statement did not mean the inspector had to disregard evidence on other issues. Nor did it mean she had to update the parties regularly about her thinking as the inquiry proceeded.

The inspector would take into consideration any material issues raised by third parties regardless of whether they were in dispute between the principal parties. So the principal parties should continue to be mindful of and address those issues, unless and until such time as the inspector expressly told them that was unnecessary.

Here both sustainability and character/appearance were, on the evidence, live issues and the inspector was not precluded from treating them as main issues merely because she had not initially identified them as such.

So the Court of Appeal allowed the Secretary of State’s appeal.

This blog has been posted out of general interest. It does not remove the need to get bespoke legal advice in individual cases.