Planning decisions are not statutes and judges will usually make allowances for less than perfect wording. However, in one case a developer’s hopes of building 400 new homes on the outskirts of a northern city were boosted when the High Court spotted a potentially crucial flaw in a decision to refuse planning consent.
The developer argued that its proposals would make a valuable contribution towards meeting burgeoning housing demand in the area. However, a planning inspector ruled that the benefits of the scheme, including provision of affordable housing, were outweighed by planning policy objections.
The project, he said, would conflict with housing land allocation policies contained within the local development plan and harm the area's character and identity. The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government agreed with him and outline planning consent was refused.
In ruling on the developers' challenge to that decision, the Court could find no error in the Secretary of State's approach to the housing land supply issues raised. However, it identified a 'serious problem' in the decision letter which meant that it had to be quashed and the matter reconsidered.
Between the date of the inspector's report and the Secretary of State's decision, the local authority had withdrawn an interim policy which was relevant to the debate. The Secretary of State failed to have regard to that change in circumstances and that had resulted in significant factual errors which amounted to a material error of law.