Planning Officials, like most people, sometimes make mistakes and one of the roles of the law is to correct them. However, sometimes these mistakes can have unanticipated consequences. A good example of this was a recent High Court case which quashed planning permission for three marquees in the grounds of a country estate. Unfortunately, the estate was a very popular venue for wedding receptions, putting the plans of very many couples in jeopardy.
The local planning authority had granted consent for the marquees to the owner of the estate after receiving positive advice from one of its officers. The officer had recommended that various conditions be attached to the permission, including a five-year time limit on the marquees remaining in place. The minutes of the relevant planning committee meeting showed conclusively that its members had intended to attach that condition to the consent.
However, when the formal planning permission was issued, neither the time limit nor any other condition was attached to it. The council did not discover the error until almost six years later, which would have caused the estate to be in breach of planning permission had it been issued correctly. The error was also picked up by the operator of a nearby hotel, used by a rival wedding business who launched a judicial review of the planning permission.
In defending the planning permission, the owner pointed out that it had accepted over 180 wedding bookings in respect of the marquees, up to and including 2020, and that more than 50,000 people would be affected if the permission were quashed. It was submitted that such a consequence would be contrary to good administration.
However, the Court noted that the Council had confessed its error and had not sought to defend the permission. A clear error, contrary to the intentions of the recorded minutes of the planning committee, and the integrity of the planning process demanded that it should be corrected. If the five-year condition had been attached as it should have been, the permission would already have expired and the effect of keeping the permission in place would be to sanction the presence of the marquees forever.
The Court found that it was safe to infer that the owner became aware of the error soon after it was made, but had chosen to remain silent and not draw it to the council’s attention. Had they done so, it may have been possible for the error to be resolved earlier. The owner knew that the marquees continued presence might be legally precarious and its decision to continue to accept bookings regardless was taken at its own peril. Therefore, whilst expressing sympathy for couples whose wedding plans might be disrupted by its ruling, the Court found it had no option but to quash the planning permission.
If you have a property query, Martin Reynolds, Head of Property and Commercial, will be delighted to help you. He offers a fixed fee meeting for £95 including VAT for one hour of initial advice. Call 01189589711 or e-mail Martin at [email protected]