This was a judicial review arising out of the mistaken issue of an Inspector’s decision letter allowing Gleeson Homes’ planning appeal and granting permission for a 180-dwelling residential development in Malmesbury, Wiltshire. At the time when the decision letter was issued, the Secretary of State had already decided to recover the appeal for his own determination and his office had communicated that decision by email to the Planning Inspectorate. The recipient of that message was, however, on leave and by coincidence on the same afternoon the Inspector sent his decision letter to the Inspectorate’s despatch office for it to be released, which, in ignorance of the Secretary of State’s decision to recover, it duly was. The mistake was discovered shortly afterwards and on the next day a letter was sent to the parties to the appeal stating that the Inspector’s decision had been issued in error and was withdrawn. On the following day, the Planning Inspectorate issued a further letter providing the parties with formal notice of the recovery direction and the reason for it.
Cranston J. had held at first instance that the Secretary of State had acted lawfully and dismissed Gleeson’s claim (click here for details).
The Court of Appeal (Laws, Sullivan & Ryder LJJ) allowed the appeal. They held that:
- The email from the Secretary of State’s office to the Planning Inspectorate was not a recovery direction. A recovery direction had to state the reasons for recovery, and the email did not. Therefore the Inspector retained jurisdiction to determine the appeal at the time when his decision was issued.
- The Secretary of State did not have power to withdraw the Inspector’s decision once it had been issued, without relying upon the statutory revocation procedure under ss.97-100 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, which carried with it the requirement to pay compensation.
Charles Banner appeared for the Respondent Secretary of State, with Jonathan Swift QC.