A local authority has failed in a High Court challenge which it had hoped would help to stem the increasing tide of public house closures throughout the country. Islington Council had argued that a planning inspector erred when he approved plans for the demolition of the Good Intent pub and its replacement by six three-storey town houses.
The Council had argued that the inspector’s decision flew in the face of a local policy designed to protect pubs from closure and redevelopment. That policy required a pub to stand vacant for two years, and to have no realistic prospect of being re-opened, before such developments would be permitted.
Mr Justice Cranston dismissed the Council’s arguments and ordered it to pay almost £6,000 in legal costs. However, the judge granted Islington permission to challenge his decision in the Court of Appeal after Council lawyers referred to the ‘ominous ramifications’ of the ruling for its pubs protection policy.
In dismissing the challenge, the judge said, “In my view the inspector’s conclusion that the overall aim of the policy had been satisfied, even though there was a degree of conflict with its precise requirements, cannot be said to be in error. There was no error of law since the inspector correctly understood the terms of the policy and acknowledged a conflict with its wording – that the premises were not vacant and that the continuous marketing evidence over a two year period was absent.
“He applied his judgment to the significance of that conflict by assessing the purpose of the policy, the viability of the Good Intent and the evidence as to whether it was of value to the local community. In my view he made an obviously thoughtful planning decision on a correct interpretation of the policy. His application of the policy to the facts was a question of judgment and cannot be said to be flawed in public law terms.”
The inspector had made a clear finding of fact that the Good Intent was not of particular value to the local community and, by contrast, concluded that the proposed town houses ‘would represent a respectful addition to the street scene’. However, the judge was just persuaded to grant permission to appeal ‘because the Council seemed to believe, wrongly in my view, that my decision has significant ominous ramifications for its policy’.