Planning Decisions Must Be Consistent and In Line With Published Policy

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has broad planning powers, but he has to exercise them consistently and in accordance with his own published policies. The High Court powerfully made that point in breathing new life into proposals for 400 new homes in the heartland of racing near Newmarket.

The proposed development on farmland was supported by the local authority and, following a public inquiry, a government inspector had recommended that consent be granted. The Secretary of State, however, refused consent, principally on the basis of racing industry concerns that increased traffic movements that would arise from the development might threaten the safety of racehorses that used numerous equestrian crossings in the area.

With the backing of a number of parish councils that were in favour of the proposals, the owner of the land concerned, the Earl of Derby, mounted a judicial review challenge to the decision. In upholding his complaints, the Court identified a fatal inconsistency in the Secretary of State’s decision letter.

He had failed to mention an earlier planning decision, in respect of a larger proposed development on the same site, in which it was determined that any increase in traffic would not pose an unacceptable risk to horses. That proposal would have generated three times as much additional traffic as the scheme under consideration and the Secretary of State’s change of position demanded an explanation that could not be found in his decision.

The Secretary of State had performed a complete and unexplained volte face in his assessment of the highways impact of the two proposals. He had also failed to apply his own National Planning Policy Framework, which encourages sustainable housing developments. The refusal of planning permission was quashed and the Secretary of State was directed to reconsider the matter.