Planning Inspectors Have Latitude to Use Their Common Sense

Government planning inspectors are experts in their field – but their role is a practical one, requiring common sense, and their decisions do not have to be expressed with the same precision as an act of Parliament. The Court of Appeal made that point as it scotched plans for 114 new homes on the outskirts of a country town.

The local authority had refused to grant planning permission for the development, principally on grounds that the local road network would not be able to cope with such a large increase in traffic flow without causing unacceptable noise and disturbance to existing residents. That decision was upheld by an inspector, who found that the benefits of the scheme were outweighed by the disadvantages.

The would-be developer’s challenge to that ruling was, however, upheld by the High Court on the basis that the inspector had failed to state in terms that she had in the forefront of her mind her duty under Section 38(6) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 to reach her decision in accordance with the local development plan unless material considerations indicated to the contrary.

In upholding an appeal against that decision, brought by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the Court of Appeal noted that the inspector was neither required to recite a mantra, nor to spell out the extent to which she considered the proposals would accord with, or not accord with, the development plan.

On a commonsense reading of her decision as a whole, it was clear that she had concluded that the proposals conflicted with the development plan and would thus be unacceptable unless justified by other material considerations. The way in which she had performed a classic balancing exercise could not be faulted.

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