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Speaking up

Child evidence 2 iStock 000004679292XSmall 146x219The High Court ruled earlier this year in a case where a non-planning councillor spoke at a planning committee meeting. Mary Tate examines the ruling.

The High Court rejected an application for judicial review of the grant of planning permission to develop land partly occupied by the council in Bishop's Stortford Civic Federation v East Hertfordshire District Council and others [2014] EWHC 348 (Admin).

The claimant challenged the grant of planning permission on several grounds, including that the decision to grant planning permission was flawed by reason of remarks made by a member of the council's executive who was not a member of the planning committee.

This case highlights the difficulties that arise when a local authority has to determine a planning application for development in which the authority is itself substantially involved.

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Facts

The case concerned a proposal by Henderson Global Investors Limited (Henderson) for retail and residential development on land at Bishop Stortford in which both Henderson and the council had interests. As part of the redevelopment, council offices were to be demolished, and land would be leased to Henderson. The council would receive an overage payment and agreed to assist in obtaining all necessary consents.

Henderson applied for planning permission and the application was considered by the planning committee. Councillor Tindale, who was not a planning committee councillor and had been influential in negotiating the agreement with Henderson, addressed the committee. He told the committee that the mixed-use development had already been approved by the council's executive and if the planning committee voted against the application, that decision would be undermined.

Decision

The High Court held that the planning committee was made up of experienced councillors who were aware of the need to base their decisions on relevant planning considerations alone. In the absence of an express provision in the council's constitution preventing attendance any councillor, where there is no disabling personal interest and with the committee's permission, can attend and address it.

The councillor's motives in addressing the committee were irrelevant. The relevant issue was the impact on the committee members' decision. There was no reasonable basis for concluding that the committee would have voted differently in the absence of the councillor's intervention.

The Court noted that members should be free to express their views as, if they do not, their real reasons for voting may be veiled or unclear. Retrospectively asking individual councillors to explain their voting was 'deplorable'. The court's view was that "excessive forensic analysis of political debate has the appearance of fettering the democratic process".

Comment

This is an interesting case regarding local government decision-making in which the Court recognised that statements made by individuals should not be subject to a legal analysis. Councillors should be confident in the knowledge that what matters is the general tenor of the decision-making, rather than the individual views.

Mary Tate is an associate at Veale Wasbrough Vizards. She can be contacted on 0117 314 5624 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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