In a case which underlines the difficulties that can be caused by delay in planning cases, the Court of Appeal has ruled that campaigners opposed to a substantial residential development were correctly permitted to amend the grounds of their appeal after the expiry of the six-week limitation period contained within section 288 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.
The campaigners had launched their challenge to a planning inspector’s decision to grant consent for the development within the six-week period. However, their initial grounds of appeal were in substance an attack on the merits of the decision and thus were doomed to fail. More than two months after the expiry of the limitation period, the campaigners were granted permission to amend their grounds to put forward a case that the inspector’s decision was vitiated by procedural irregularity.
Dismissing the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government’s appeal against that decision, the Court found that the amendment, although late, had been properly allowed. Although recognising the need for ‘speedy finality’ in planning cases, the Court noted that the prospective developers had not been seriously prejudiced by the delay and that, without the amendment, the campaigners would have been unable to put forward the only seriously arguable point in the case.
The Court observed that the provisions of the Civil Procedure Rules relating to limitation periods in planning cases had been drafted with ordinary civil litigation in mind and that this had given rise to difficulties in practice. The Rules Committee was urged to consider making amendments in the light of the Court’s ruling.