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It may come as a surprise to many that local authorities are under no statutory obligation to give reasons for their planning decisions. However, as a High Court case concerning a residential development showed, a lack of explanation can render such decisions particularly vulnerable to legal challenge.
The case concerned a proposal to build six bungalows. Planning officers advised the council to refuse planning consent, citing landscape harm and poor accessibility. There was no scarcity of deliverable sites for new housing in the area and the site was in the open countryside. Councillors, however, went their own way and resolved to grant permission. They did so without giving any reasons for their decision.
In ruling on a judicial review challenge to that decision brought by a concerned local resident, the Court noted that the council was under no statutory obligation to explain its rejection of the officers' advice. However, the absence of reasons meant that councillors' thought processes could only be discerned with difficulty from the minutes of the relevant planning committee meeting.
In quashing the decision, the Court found that, given the lengthy planning history of the site, the committee was under a common law duty to provide reasons. The minutes, even when read with the officers' reports, gave no clear insight into the rationality or otherwise of the committee's approach and did not enable objectors to understand why planning permission had been granted.