Secretary of State’s refusal to call in planning decision unsuccessfully challenged

In R ex parte Westminster City Council -v-Secretary of State [2014] Westminster City Council and English Heritage sought judicial review of the Secretary of State’s decision not to call in proposals for a £800 million redevelopment of Elizabeth House near Waterloo Station in London, because of concerns it would have a negative impact on views from the Westminster World Heritage site.

The proposals, involved the demolition of the existing 1960s office block on the site and its replacement by two new buildings, including a 29-storey tower, consisting of 142 homes and 88,649 square feet of offices.

Whilst the Secretary of State has a wide discretion to call in or refuse to call in an application, under the ministerial statement issued on 26 October 2012, it is not unrestricted. It must be applied lawfully. However due to its breadth a challenge based on perversity is unlikely to succeed.

It can be challenged if it can be shown that the Secretary of State has failed to understand the relevant policy or on the usual Wednesbury grounds if it can be shown that he has reached a decision that no reasonable decision making authority properly constituted and advised would have made.

However as the Secretary of State is not actually deciding whether or not to grant planning permission the Courts will be slow to intervene.

The Secretary of State need not give reasons but any he does give can be examined and give rise to a challenge if they show he has made an error of law or otherwise acted unlawfully.

In the Elizabeth House case the court decided that the Secretary of State had been entitled to decide not to call the planning decision in.

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