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High Court quashes decision of planning inspector over misunderstanding of policy

A planning inspector’s decision was so “firmly rooted” in misunderstanding of a policy that it must be quashed, the High Court has ruled.

In Ribble Valley Borough Council v Secretary of State for Housing Communities and Local Government & Anor [2021] EWHC 3092 HHJ Bird found in favour of Ribble Valley Borough Council in a dispute over the decision of appointed inspector Graeme Robbie.

Developer Oakmere Homes (NW) had applied to build 39 homes near Clitheroe. It lodged a section 78 appeal against the council’s failure to make a decision within the prescribed time and Mr Robbie upheld the application.

Ribble Valley said that had it determined the application, it would have been rejected  on the ground that the proposed development would not be in a suitable location.

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The site concerned is outside the settlement boundary of Clitheroe and in open countryside, so development would be contrary to its policy.

HHJ Bird noted: “The Secretary of State does not resist Ribble Valley’s application to quash the inspector's decision. The application is pursued by the developer.”

Ribble Valley appealed under section 288 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 to quash the decision.

The council argued that its core strategy concentrated development in certain areas and imposed far more stringent tests for projects outside these, and that Mr Robbie applied the wrong policy in reaching his view.

Oakmere said the inspector had been entitled to reach the conclusion he did as a matter of planning judgment, as whether a development site is ‘in’ a principal settlement “is not simply a mechanistic exercise but is one which involves planning judgment”.

HHJ Bird said: “The real area of dispute between the parties is whether the inspector's conclusion that planning permission should be granted was based on the simple and legitimate exercise of a planning judgment arising out of a correctly interpreted policy (in which case, given the absence of an irrationality challenge, the decision would stand and the challenge would fail) or on a planning judgment based on a misunderstanding of the relevant policy (in which case the claim would succeed).”

The judge said Mr Robbie’s decision did not involve planning judgment and ”the inspector's decision is firmly rooted in a misunderstanding of the policy and so must be quashed”.

Mark Smulian

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