Consistency of decision making is a fundamental principle of planning law and local authorities can only depart from it if they give cogent reasons for doing so. In one case in which this was in point, planning permission for a new home in a Green Belt village was overturned by the Court of Appeal.
The relevant site had a depressingly protracted planning history, in that consents granted in respect of it by the local council had twice in the past been successfully challenged in court by the same objector. After the council subsequently granted permission for a new home to be built on the site, the objector again sought judicial review of the decision.
The council had followed the advice of one of its planning officers that the new home would not breach Green Belt policy in that it would amount to no more than limited infilling in a village. The objector, however, pointed to a ruling by a government planning inspector some years earlier that development of the site could not be viewed as infilling. In upholding the objector’s challenge and quashing the latest permission, a judge found that the council had been obliged to give at least some reasons for reaching an apparently inconsistent decision.
In dismissing the council’s appeal against that ruling, the Court noted that its decision and that of the inspector were so starkly at odds as to appear irreconcilable. The council had made no attempt to distinguish the inspector’s decision on its facts and had simply not confronted the inconsistency. Its failure to give reasons had seriously prejudiced the objector’s position and the planning permission could not be allowed to stand. The Court lamented the continuing waste of public and private time and money caused by the council’s repeated failure to reach a lawful decision in relation to the site.
Elton Ashworth, head of our property department commented “In this instance, the council’s failure to deal adequately with the prior decision in its considerations proved fatal.”