Planning officer’s report prior to planning permission didn’t mislead

Each local planning authority delegates functions to a planning committee. The committee acts on reports provided by case officers.

The report usually also includes a recommendation as to how the application should be dealt with.

In performing that function, the officers are also exercising their planning judgment. Unless there is some indication to the contrary, its usually assumed that a committee which agrees with an officer’s recommendation, also agrees with that officer’s reasoning and, the committee can be assumed to agree with the officer’s analysis of relevant policies.

An officer’s report for a planning committee is not to be construed with the same analytical rigour as a statute.

Planning committees are a “knowledgeable readership” for the reports. Each committee can be generally assumed to know the area they operate over and the planning regime.

In the Planning Court case of Earl Shilton Action Group, R (on the application of) v Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council & Ors [2014], the question was whether the officer’s report properly identified the important planning issues and whether overall he fairly identified the material matters bearing on those issues so the committee decision-makers could weigh the competing public and private interests involved and come to an informed decision.

The Claimant was a residents’ association which sought to challenge the Defendant planning authority (“the Council”)’s decision to grant planning permission for a ten-pitch caravan site on land known as Dalebrook Farm, Leicester Road, Earl Shilton, Leicestershire.

The Claimant relied on three grounds. Amongst these, it was submitted that the officer’s report, which the Committee essentially followed, was misleading as to the relevant national policy in two respects (Grounds 1A and 1B).

Ground 1B said that the officer’s report indicated, incorrectly, that the application site was sequentially preferable to a range of other sites.

However the court said that an officer’s report is not to be construed like a statute. There may be a principle of statutory interpretation that all words must have been intended to have conveyed something; but there was no such principle with regard to an officer’s report.

The words “sequentially preferable” were simply there in the report in error; and it would have been obvious to the Committee members that that was the case. There were no other sites it could be sequentially preferable to.

The Claimant failed to get leave to pursue judicial review on the other two surviving grounds either.

The decision has caused a degree of upset in the locality where residents do not think the flood vulnerability of the site was sufficiently brought into assessment.

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