In a ruling which underlines the limited role of non-statutory consultees in the planning process, the Court of Appeal has ruled that a local authority’s planning committee was entitled to ignore the views of an informal consultative body prior to granting consent for a substantial development.
The London Borough of Richmond upon Thames approved plans for re-development of Twickenham railway station as part of a wider regeneration scheme. The plans included proposals for retail space and 115 residential units, rising to a height of up to seven storeys, and engendered powerful opposition from the Twickenham Residents Association Group (TRAG).
The plans were supported by an environmental statement and a townscape study which it was said justified departure from a height restriction contained within local planning policy. The council granted consent after accepting the developer’s plea that the scale of the development was justified by the need to fund major changes to the station's layout and that a smaller scheme would not have been viable.
TRAG launched a judicial review challenge to the council’s decision, arguing that it had failed to give due weight to alternative proposals for a lower-rise development. It was also submitted that the council’s planning committee had failed to take into account a material consideration in ignoring a report prepared by the Twickenham Advisory Panel (TAP), an informal body that had been set up by the council's leader to give advice on development issues.
The Court of Appeal acknowledged that it was 'very surprising' that the planning committee had taken no account of the TAP report, the body having acted within its remit and having been set up specifically to advise on regeneration proposals in general and the station project in particular.
However, in dismissing TRAG’s appeal, the Court was not persuaded that that failure vitiated the committee’s decision. The Court noted that 'all the points of substance' in the TAP report were also covered in the officer's report to the committee and that it contained nothing capable of affecting the conclusion that the proposals accorded overall with the local development plan.
The TAP report had noted 'significant local community support' for the proposals and a 'clear consensus' that the station required improvement and investment. Although the views of TAP were 'plainly worthy of respect', its role and remit 'did not give it anything like the status of a statutory consultee', the Court ruled.
The TAP report was based on the views of 114 people who attended a public meeting - compared with over 1,300 public letters in respect of the proposals received by planning officers - and the Court concluded that there was no real possibility that the committee would have reached a different conclusion had it been taken into account.