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When must an unsuccessful litigant accept "No" for an answer? Court of Appeal hands down latest ruling in long-running planning battle

A planning dispute that has been the subject of nine court hearings must be brought to an end, the Court of Appeal has said.

The case of Wingfield, R (on the application of) v Canterbury City Council & Anor [2020] EWCA Civ 1588 involved an attempt by resident Elizabeth Wingfield to persuade Canterbury City Council to rescind planning permission for developments by builder Redrow Homes (South East).

In a joint judgment, Sir Keith Lindblom, the Senior President of Tribunals, Coulson LJ and Andrews J said: “What the applicant seeks here, ultimately, is an order of the court quashing two decisions taken by Canterbury City Council…to approve housing development to the east of Canterbury, and then, when the proposals go back to committee for redetermination, to persuade the council to reverse its earlier decisions by refusing planning permission,” the judges said.

They noted Ms Wingfield’s case over a site named Chislet had been subject to five separate considerations by the courts, and that for the Hoplands site four.

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She should have accepted defeat “after her claims for judicial review were comprehensively rejected by Lang J” but had persisted such that, “the resources of the Court of Appeal have had to be devoted to dealing with ill-founded applications for permission to appeal, a first reconsideration of the refusal of permission to appeal, and now a further application to open up the first reconsideration of the refusal of permission to appeal”.

Since the Court of Appeal did not operate with specialist planning judges, unmeritorious planning disputes hindered the court’s work.

The three judges stated: “The judges who sit in its civil jurisdiction are engaged on appeals in a wide range of different areas of the law, none of which can be given general priority or precedence over the others.

“Its workload is huge. Its resources of judicial time, expertise and availability are extremely hard pressed. It can only function as it should, in the interests of providing access to justice, and doing justice, for all users of the court, if parties and their legal representatives behave with good sense and show respect both for other court users and for the court itself.”

Ms Wingfield’s applications were “in substance an attempt to do that which is impermissible under CPR 52.30(7), namely appeal or review the decision refusing permission to re-open the refusal of permission to appeal in each case”.

The judges said there might be very rare circumstances where the test in CPR 52.30 was met, but “we would emphasise as strongly as we can the need for parties and their legal representatives to adopt a sensible and responsible approach, and to refrain from abusive proceedings”.

Ms Wingfield’s application made failed to meet “any – let alone all – of the criteria set out in CPR 52.30”, was not exceptional and there had been no injustice to her.

Mark Smulian

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