Hale Bank Parish Council has successfully argued that Halton Borough Council erred in granting planning permission to Veolia ES UK Ltd for a waste transfer and treatment facility in Widnes.
The High Court (Mrs Justice Lieven) quashed the permission on two grounds: The first ground was that the local planning authority had failed properly to apply a “sequential test” in a policy of the development plan. The Court found that the officer’s report had inappropriately relied on the fact that the Council’s external advisor on waste was satisfied that the requirements of policy WM1 were met, without providing the Committee with sufficient information to enable them either to make up their own minds or to reach a view on the conclusion reached by the advisor.
Secondly, when the background material was examined (which had not been provided to the Committee) it found that the external advisor had accepted the developer’s assertions as to site suitability without investigating the suitability or availability of alternative sites in accordance with the policy, and the officers had accepted the advisor’s advice without asking relevant questions. This was found to be in breach of the principle in Secretary of State for Education v. Tameside MBC  AC 1014, that a decision maker must “take reasonable steps to acquaint himself with the relevant information”.
The second successful ground of challenge was a failure to comply with s.100D(5) of the Local Government Act 1972. That statutory provision requires a list of background papers to be included in officers’ reports. Background papers are defined as documents which disclose any facts or matters on which the report is based. The Court agreed with the Claimant that the written advice provided by the Council’s external advisor was such a background paper and that the Council had failed to comply with s.100D by failing to disclose it as such. Lieven J said that “the clear statutory intention behind s.100D(5) is to ensure that documents upon which an officer’s report is based are open to be viewed by members of the public”. She found that the failure in this case was material and had seriously disadvantaged the Parish Council in their representation to Committee.
The judgment represents a reminder for local planning authorities to ensure that the decision maker (whether a delegated officer or committee) is provided with sufficient information to enable them to understand and form a view about whether a proposal accords with the development plan. Reliance on assertions from external advisors, however expert, is not sufficient. The case reiterates the message given by Cranston J in the case of R (Joicey) v. Northumberland CC  EWHC 3657 (Admin), highlighting the importance of compliance with the public’s “right to know” provisions under s.100 of the Local Government Act 1972.
Jenny Wigley represented the Claimant, Hale Bank Parish Council.