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Court of Appeal backs council in latest stage of QPR training ground dispute

Opponents of a planned development by Queen’s Park Rangers Football Club have lost an appeal against an earlier court ruling that they had no grounds on which to challenge the London Borough of Ealing’s grant of planning permission.

The case was brought to the Court of Appeal by Carolyn Brown, an officer of local amenity group the Hanwell Community Forum.

She argued that the planning officer’s report to councillors was bad in law when it found ‘very special circumstances’ existed to justify the grant of planning permission for inappropriate development on metropolitan open land, and that Ealing failed to take into account the proposal's conflict with Policy 7.18 of the London Plan, which requires the loss of protected open spaces to be resisted.

The long running dispute last year saw a crowdfunding campaign launched to finance continued legal action.

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In the Court of Appeal Lindblom LJ rejected the suggestion that the officer had ’double counted’ benefits and so gave unlawful advice to the committee.

She did not fall into the error of ‘double-counting’”, the judge concluded in Brown v London Borough of Ealing Council & Anor [2018]. “She weighed the benefit to the local community of improvements to the existing facilities against the ‘loss’ of public access, and concluded that, on balance, there would be no harm in this respect, having already deployed the same planning benefit, with the same force, in the ‘very special circumstances’ balance against the harm to metropolitan open land.”

The judge said: “This court has consistently emphasized the need for planning officers’ reports to committee to be read with reasonable benevolence and realism, and not in an overly legalistic way…the officer's report was comprehensive and thorough, the conclusions it contains clearly reasoned and, on their face, well within the ambit of lawful planning judgment.”

He said it was in principle possible for a particular factor to be relevant, and to carry appropriate weight, in the consideration of more than one planning issue.

The argument concerning the London plan was also rejected. “The officer's advice shows a true understanding and lawful application of every policy in the development plan bearing on the acceptability of this development on community open space and an existing sports ground, including the relevant protective provisions in those policies,” the judgment said, concluding “to argue the contrary would be impossible”.

Mark Smulian

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