Where local authorities choose not to follow the advice of their professional planning officers, the resulting decisions are likely to come under particularly close judicial scrutiny. That was certainly so in one case concerning a proposed development which would involve the demolition of a pub's listed skittle alley.
The alley, which a developer planned to remove and replace, was said to be at least 150 years old and was set within a conservation area and a world heritage site. The developer also proposed construction of a new community room and accessible toilets for the pub, together with nine studio apartments.
One of the council's planning officers firmly recommended that planning permission for the scheme be refused. Pointing to multiple and significant conflicts between the scheme and the local development plan, he said that its benefits would not outweigh the harm it would cause.
The officer could detect no intrinsic link between the proposals and the future viability of the pub and noted that there had been no assessment of flood risks arising from the development. By a majority of five councillors to four, however, the council's development management committee granted permission for the scheme.
After a local resident mounted a judicial review challenge to the permission, the council threw in the towel and conceded that the committee had given insufficient reasons for its decision. The developer, however, persisted in its defence of the permission on the basis that it had been lawfully granted.
Ruling on the matter, the High Court found that, given its stark disagreement with the planning officer, the committee was required to give reasons for its decision. After weighing up the advantages and disadvantages of the scheme, the officer had given an accumulation of reasons why consent should be refused.
The minutes of the committee meeting, however, gave no indication as to why it had reached a different conclusion. Factors in favour of the scheme were very largely a matter of assertions that were demonstrably wrong or questionable. In quashing the permission, the Court concluded that the committee's decision to grant it was irrational.