The High Court has refused permission to seek judicial review of the Corporation of the City of London’s decision to grant planning permission for the provision of new educational facilities in the Inner Temple Treasury Building. The proposals were particularly controversial, because they entail the loss of the upper gallery of the Inner Temple library. Although constructed after the Second World War, the library is a notable feature of the Treasury Building, and is regarded with strong affection by many who have used it. When granting permission, the Corporation’s planning committee accepted that the loss would cause harm to the Treasury Building, but concluded that this was less than substantial and was outweighed by the benefits of the scheme.
The Claimant’s challenge was brought on four grounds: that in reaching its decision, the planning committee had failed to take into account the existence of alternative proposals; that it had failed to give adequate reasons for its decision; that it had failed to consider properly the impact of temporary structures (the construction compound and decant facilities required during the construction period) on surrounding heritage assets; and that it had been procedurally unfair not to allow objectors to respond to comments made by the applicant at the planning committee.
Rejecting all four arguments, Ouseley J observed that:
- The officer’s report had contained a full and careful analysis of the alternatives considered by the Inner Temple, in which officers had accepted the Inn’s explanation for choosing the application scheme. No criticism was made of that report. The Claimant’s case therefore hung upon a comment said to have been made by the Chairman in the course of debate that the Committee could not consider alternatives any further. However, that observation (for which no context had been provided in the Claimant’s account of the meeting) was not a direction or ruling that members could not consider alternatives. The observation was made some way into the debate, at a time when there had already been considerable discussion of alternatives, and was plainly not intending to suggest that the analysis in the officer’s report was irrelevant. Rather, the Chairman was simply seeking to focus members’ attention on the task before them. If the Claimant’s interpretation was correct, it is difficult to see how members could have concluded that the less than substantial harm to the Treasury Building was justified.
- Ground 2 added nothing to Ground 1. Even if Ground 1 had been made out, the judge would have concluded that the reasons for the decision were those in the officer’s report and were adequate.
- The planning committee was plainly aware of the fact that both a construction compound and temporary decant facilities would be needed, and that these would have an impact on the character and appearance of the Conservation Area and the setting of nearby listed buildings for the construction period. The committee had responded to those concerns by imposing a condition removing permitted development rights for the use of the Inner Temple Garden, and by a condition requiring detail to be submitted of the location of the construction compound. The reasons for singling out the Gardens were understandable, given the amenity value and public use of these areas. The committee must have been aware that the consequence was that temporary structures would need to be located elsewhere within the Inn.
- There was no unfairness in the Committee’s standing orders. It was sensible that applicants were given the opportunity to speak after objectors, since this would give them the opportunity to correct misunderstandings about the proposal. In any event, there was nothing in the comments made by the Inn’s representatives which required a right of reply.
Zack Simons appeared for the Corporation of the City of London, Paul Brown QC for the Inner Temple. Neil Cameron QC also acted the City of London, but was unavailable for the hearing.