Michaelmas Term [2017] UKSC 79 On appeal from: [2016] EWCA Civ 936

JUDGMENT
Dover District Council (Appellant) v CPRE Kent
(Respondent)
CPRE Kent (Respondent) v China Gateway
International Limited (Appellant)
before
Lady Hale, President
Lord Wilson
Lord Carnwath
Lady Black
Lord Lloyd-Jones
JUDGMENT GIVEN ON
6 December 2017
Heard on 16 October 2017
Appellant (Dover District
Council)
Respondent
Neil Cameron QC John Howell QC
Zack Simons Ned Westaway
(Instructed by Legal
Services, Dover District
Council
)
(Instructed by Richard
Buxton Environmental and
Public Law
)
Appellant (China Gateway
International Limited)
Matthew Reed QC
Matthew Fraser
(Instructed by Pinsent
Masons LLP (London)
)
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LORD CARNWATH: (with whom Lady Hale, Lord Wilson, Lady Black and
Lord Lloyd-Jones agree)
1. When a local planning authority against the advice of its own professional
advisers grants permission for a controversial development, what legal duty, if any,
does it have to state the reasons for its decision, and in how much detail? Is such a
duty to be found in statutory sources, European or domestic, or in the common law?
And what are the legal consequences of a breach of the duty?
2. Those issues are presented by this appeal in a particularly striking form. The
context is a proposal for major development to the west of Dover, on two sites
referred to as Western Heights and Farthingloe. The latter is within the Kent Downs
Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Western Heights is a prominent hilltop
overlooking Dover, dominated by a series of fortifications dating from the
Napoleonic wars, including the so-called “Drop Redoubt”. The site is a scheduled
monument. Farthingloe is in a long valley between the A20 and the B2001 to the
west of Western Heights, and comprises 155 hectares of agricultural and scrubland.
The application
3. The application for planning permission was submitted by the second
appellant (“CGI”) to the local planning authority, the Dover District Council (“the
Council”), on 13 May 2012. The principal elements were: 521 residential units and
a 90 apartment retirement “village” at Farthingloe; 31 residential units and a hotel
and conference centre at Western Heights; and conversion of the Drop Redoubt into
a visitor centre and museum. A payment of £5m for the improvements to heritage
assets, to be funded from the profits of the residential development, was to be
secured by a planning agreement. The development was categorised as “EIA
development” for the purpose of the relevant regulations (Town and Country
Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2011 (SI 2011/1824)
regulation 2(1)), and was accordingly accompanied by an environmental statement.
4. The proposal attracted strong support and strong opposition. Some saw it as
offering a much-needed boost to the local economy. Thus, for example, the South
East Local Enterprise Partnership commented:
“The proposals represent a major opportunity for both Dover
and the wider tourism and visitor economy of East Kent at a
time of major challenges facing the local economy. In the
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absence of likely public-sector funding to act as a catalyst for
change it is essential that the private sector is encouraged to
move forward with confidence and business can aid recovery.
Approval of the application would be timely in demonstrating
that Dover is open for business and investment. Refusal would
send out all the wrong messages to investors.”
Others (including the present respondents, CPRE Kent) saw it as a serious and
unjustified breach of national policy. Thus the AONB Executive said:
“The Farthingloe valley in the Kent Downs Area of
Outstanding Natural Beauty is an enormous asset to Dover.
This dry chalk valley provides a memorable approach to the
town, with glimpses of Dover castle, as well as a green setting
for both the town and the Western Heights available for all to
enjoy. The proposed development of over 500 houses in a
particularly prominent area of the valley would irreparably
damage this nationally protected landscape. It would cause
significant harm to the special character and the natural beauty
of the AONB. No meaningful mitigation would be possible.
The scheme is wholly contrary to national and local policy and
is a major challenge to the Government’s purposes for AONB
designation. We have found no other housing development
nationally on a similar scale which has been approved in an
AONB …”
The planning officers’ report
5. These views along with many others on both sides were faithfully
summarised in the officers’ report to the Planning Committee, circulated on 7 June
2013. The report, under the name of the Head of Regeneration and Development, is
a remarkable document. It runs to some 135 pages with appendices. It contains a
comprehensive exposition of the various elements of the proposed development, the
responses to consultation public and private, and the applicable national and local
policies, followed by a detailed appraisal of the relevant issues, and concluding with
a recommendation for the grant of permission but in amended form.
6. The principal change recommended by the officers was the exclusion from
the development at Farthingloe of a “safeguarded area” of some 2ha in the southwest (in the more prominent sector known as FL-B), where “officers consider the
landscape harm … most acute”; and the consequent reduction of the number of
houses at Farthingloe from 521 to 365. The Council’s economic advisers, Smiths
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Gore, had advised that the reduction would not jeopardise the viability of the scheme
or the intended financial contributions (officers’ report paras 2.216, 2.443, 2.445).
One aspect of Smiths Gore’s advice was to suggest a reduction in the Code for
Sustainable Homes (CSH) rating from Code 4 to Code 3, which would not only
deliver a viable development but would also achieve “a more marketable and higher
quality housing scheme … this being important to help diversify and improve the
Dover housing offer” (paras 2.217, 2.443). Among other recommended conditions,
it was proposed that the provision of the hotel should be secured by requiring it to
be commenced before one of the development phases (para 2.131(iii)).
7. In a section of the report headed “NPPF (para 116) review”, reference was
made to that paragraph of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which
indicates that major development in an AONB should be permitted “only in
exceptional circumstances and where a public interest can be demonstrated”. The
officers regarded the level of harm to the AONB as “significant”, particularly to the
south-west of sector FL-B where “built development on the elevated and exposed
terrain would seriously compromise the landscape character”. They concluded:
“2.447 Nevertheless it is your officers’ opinion that offsetting
the landscape harm by the modifications outlined in this report
would shift the planning balance in favour of the economic and
other national benefits of the application. The local economic
issues and specific circumstances of this case … are considered
to provide a finely balanced exceptional justification for this
major AONB development, the benefits of which would be in
the public interest. Essential to this conclusion would be seeking
all the recommended conditions (changes) and ensuring (by
condition / section 106 agreement) the deliverability of all the
relevant application ‘benefits’. The rationale for the application
is as a composite package, and any permission should therefore
be framed to ensure the emergence of the proposals in a
structured and comprehensive fashion.”
8. It was noted that the applicant had not yet been given an opportunity to
comment on these proposed changes. If they were supported in principle by the
Committee, it was suggested that they might delegate to officers to discuss with the
applicant “any minor variation of the proposed residential quantum”, and the precise
boundaries of the safeguarded area, although it was “not envisaged that this should
lead to any notable change in the recommended approach” (para 2.448). On balance
their conclusion in this case was that the application would, as “a single
comprehensive scheme”, support rather than work against the overall objectives of
sustainable development as defined by the NPPF (para 2.454).
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9. In a section headed “Conclusion” it was stated:
“… the officer position is that the conditions / changes as set out
in this report (informed by independent legal and financial
viability advice) are well founded and that all are necessary to
deliver the right composite package, including the economic
benefits, so that an on balance recommendation of approval can
reasonably be made.” (para 2.457)
The report ended with a recommendation for the grant of conditional planning
permission (part outline, part full) for the various elements of the proposal, but with
a limit of 365 residential units at Farthingloe, and subject to the completion of a
planning agreement (under section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990)
to secure the proposed benefits including the hotel and conference centre.
10. The report was shown to the applicants. Their consultants, BNP Paribas,
wrote on 11 September, expressing “fundamental” disagreement with Smiths Gore’s
appraisal of viability. They commented on the proposed reduction to 365 houses:
“We have re-run our appraisals to test the impact of the removal
of 156 units, as suggested by Smiths Gore. The result is to turn
a positive land value of £5.85m to a negative land value of –
£3.03m. On the basis of this result, the scheme would not
secure funding and could not proceed.
For the avoidance of doubt, we do not agree with the planning
officer’s assessment that the benefits provided by the
Application scheme could also be provided by the sensitivity
analysis mooted by Smiths Gore. Indeed, our view is that such a
scheme would not be capable of providing the benefits offered
and could not proceed as it would be incapable of providing a
competitive return to the landowner and developers, as required
by the National Planning Policy Framework.”
They also disagreed with the suggestion that the proposed changes would make the
scheme more marketable. Although the letter was not seen by the members of the
committee (other than the chairman), its effect and Smiths Gore’s response were
summarised at the meeting (see below).
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The Committee meeting
11. The application was considered by the Planning Committee on 13 June 2013.
The very full minutes record that the meeting started at 6.00 pm and ended at 9.38
pm, with a short break at 9.00 pm following the main vote for the officers to make
amendments to their recommendation. (Also on the agenda was one other minor
planning application which was dealt with first.) On the Farthingloe application
there were contributions by four members of the public (two for and two against).
There was a detailed presentation by the officers of the proposals and the issues,
during which reference was made to the issue of viability and the BNP Paribas letter,
the effect of which was summarised. The minute continued:
“The Principal Planner advised the Committee that, having
considered the further views of BNP Paribas, Smiths Gore
stood by their analysis that a lower density scheme would be
viable and would deliver the same monetary benefits as
currently on offer. Officers therefore recommended that a
lower density scheme should be approved as it was viable, not
excessive for the site and would be compliant with the Core
Strategy.”
12. After the officers’ presentation, five members were recorded as speaking in
favour of the proposal, and one against. Another expressed concern about the
security of the proposed payment of £5m. The views of three named supporters were
expressed collectively; they saw it as “a rare opportunity for regeneration and
investment”, and a “courageous step … necessary to give Dover’s young people a
future”; of the proposed amendments they said:
“…, it was felt that the application should not be restricted in
the way proposed in the recommendation as this could
jeopardise the viability of the scheme, deter other developers
and be less effective in delivering the economic benefits. The
Committee had to assess whether the advantages outweighed
the harm that would be caused to the AONB. When seen from
the ground and with effective screening, it was believed that
this could be minimised. In these exceptional circumstances it
was considered that the advantages did outweigh the harmful
impact on the AONB.”
13. At the end of the discussion a motion was proposed that the officers’
recommendation be approved but subject to amendment of the number of houses
from 365 to 521 as proposed in the application. The motion was carried (the voting
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is not recorded). The meeting was adjourned for 25 minutes to enable the officers to
re-word their recommendation with consequential amendments. A vote was then
taken on the amended recommendation, which was approved.
14. On 11 July 2013, in response to requests by (among others) CPRE Kent, the
Secretary of State declined to call in the application for his own determination.
The section 106 agreement and the grant of permission
15. On 18 December 2014 the application returned to the planning committee
with an updated officers’ report. The introduction to the report made clear that its
purpose was, not to revisit the decision to grant permission in the previous year, but
to update the committee on the section 106 agreement, and to provide “an
assessment of planning considerations which have emerged since the resolution to
grant planning permission” (para 3). The report on the section 106 agreement
confirmed that, contrary to the officers’ recommendation in June 2013, there was no
obligation linking the provision of the hotel to the phasing of the residential
development:
“The section 106 is drafted in accordance with the Committee
resolution which places no obligation on the applicant to
provide the hotel at any point in time and there is no obligation
to provide the hotel at any stage during the build-out of other
development proposed in the application. Rather, the objective
of the section 106 is to provide the opportunity for a quality
hotel to come forward.” (para 35)
16. Although Mr Cameron drew our attention to some aspects of this report, it
does not seem to have been relied on in the courts below. Mitting J (para 6) merely
noted that the revisions were not material to the issues which arose in the case. The
December meeting was not mentioned by the Court of Appeal. I can find nothing in
the report or minutes to suggest an intention to revisit the substance of the decision
of principle made in June 2013, nor which throws further light on the reasons for
that decision. The committee resolved to grant permission subject to the completion
of the section 106 agreement.
17. The agreement was executed on 1 April 2015, and planning permission was
granted on the same day. The notification of grant is a substantial document, running
to more than 50 pages, including a long list of approved documents supporting the
application, and detailing 183 conditions. It concludes with a note (“for the
avoidance of doubt”) that the Environmental Statement accompanying the
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application has been taken into account. But it contains no reference to any
obligation to give reasons under the EIA regulations (see below), nor any formal
statement of the reasons for the grant.
The proceedings
18. The present proceedings for judicial review, on a number of grounds
including lack of reasons, were heard by Mitting J at a rolled-up hearing in
December 2015, and were dismissed by him on 16 December: [2015] EWHC 3808
(Admin). Permission to appeal was granted solely on the issue of reasons. On 16
September 2016 the Court of Appeal (Laws and Simon LJJ) allowed the appeal and
quashed the permission: [2016] EWCA Civ 936.
19. Laws LJ noted the controversy at the Bar as to the standard of reasons
required (para 18). He pointed to three particular factors as calling for clear reasons
in this case: the “pressing nature” of the AONB policy as expressed in the NPPF
para 115-6 (“the highest status of protection”); the departure from the officers’
recommendation; and the specific duty imposed by the EIA regulations (paras 21-
23). Although he noted the relative “thinness” of the material available to the
committee on the viability issue, he relied principally on the failure of the committee
to assess and explain the degree of harm to the AONB, having regard to the strictness
of the policy and the strong view of harm taken by the officers (paras 29-30). The
only reference to this issue in the minutes spoke of the need to assess whether the
advantages “outweighed” the harm to the AONB, wrongly implying that it was
simply a question of “striking a balance”. Further the reference to “minimising the
harm” by “effective screening” took no account of the officers’ view that the change
of levels to the east would mean that “over time, screening would be largely
ineffective”.
20. In granting permission to appeal (on 2 March 2017), this court indicated that
it would wish to consider generally the sources, nature and extent of a local planning
authority’s duty to give reasons for the grant of planning permission.
Duties to give reasons – statutory sources
21. The Town and Country Planning Act 1990 itself says nothing about the
giving of reasons for planning decisions. The 1990 Act requires the decision (inter
alia) to be made having regard to the development plan and other material
considerations (section 70(2)). The Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 is
more specific in requiring the decision to be made in accordance with the
development plan “unless material considerations indicate otherwise” (section
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38(6); see Hopkins Homes Ltd v Secretary of State for Communities and Local
Government [2017] 1 WLR 1865, para 7). But it does not in terms require the
decision-maker to spell out the material circumstances which justify such a
departure.
22. The non-statutory National Planning Policy Framework (“NPPF”) (itself
treated as a “material consideration” for these purposes: ibid paras 10-21) provides
comprehensive guidance to local planning authorities on the handling of individual
planning applications. Paragraph 14 with footnote 9 notes, as an exception to the
general presumption in favour of permission, “specific policies” by which
“development is restricted”; including those relating to protected sites under the
Birds and Habitats Directives, Green Belts, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty,
and National Parks. In practice such policy designations are likely to be reflected
also in the statutory development plan, so that section 38(6) will come into play.
23. The statutory rules relating to the giving of reasons are all to be found in
subordinate legislation. It is hard to detect a coherent approach in their development.
The main categories are:
i) Secretary of State decisions (including those delegated to inspectors)

a) following an inquiry or hearing;
b) on written representations.
ii) Decisions by local planning authorities –
a) Refusing planning permission or imposing conditions;
b) Granting permission;
c) Officer decisions under delegated powers.
iii) Decisions (at any level) on applications for EIA development.
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Secretary of State and inspector decisions
24. Local objectors have no right to call for a public inquiry into a planning
appeal. Section 79(2) provides that before determining an appeal the Secretary of
State shall “if either the appellant or the local planning authority so wish” give them
an opportunity of appearing before a person appointed by the Secretary of State. If
an inquiry is held the right of other parties to appear is determined by the inquiries
procedure rules (see, in respect of Secretary of State decisions, the Town and
Country Planning (Inquiries Procedure) (England) Rules 2000 (SI 2000/1624) rule
11). Following an inquiry, the Secretary of State must “notify his decision on an
application or an appeal and his reasons for it in writing” to “all persons entitled to
appear at the inquiry who did appear, … and any other person who, having appeared
at the inquiry, has asked to be notified of the decision” (ibid rule 18(1)). Equivalent
duties are applied under the separate rules dealing with decisions by inspectors and
decisions following hearings.
25. In Save Britain’s Heritage v Number 1 Poultry Ltd [1991] 1 WLR 153, Lord
Bridge said of the duty imposed by statute on the Secretary of State:
“That they should be required to state their reasons is a salutary
safeguard to enable interested parties to know that the decision
has been taken on relevant and rational grounds and that any
applicable statutory criteria have been observed. It is the
analogue in administrative law of the common law’s
requirement that justice should not only be done, but also be
seen to be done.” (p 170)
26. There is no corresponding statutory rule applying to decisions following a
written representations appeal. However, it is the practice for a fully reasoned
decision to be given. It has been accepted (on behalf of the Secretary of State, and
by the Administrative Court) that there is an enforceable duty, said to arise “… either
from the principles of procedural fairness … or from the legitimate expectation
generated by the Secretary of State’s long-established practice …” (Martin v
Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government [2015] EWHC 3435
(Admin) para 51 per Lindblom LJ).
Local authority decisions
27. Refusals and conditions It has long been the case that local planning
authorities must give reasons for refusing permission or imposing conditions.
Historically this appears to have been the corollary of the fact that in those cases
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there is a statutory right of appeal against the refusal or the conditions. The current
order (Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure)
(England) Order 2015 (SI 2015/595) article 35(1)) provides that the authority in their
decision notice must state “clearly and precisely their full reasons”.
28. Grant of permission Until 2003 there was no statutory duty on local planning
authorities to give reasons for the grant of permission as such. There was then a
change of thinking, as Sullivan J explained (R (Wall) v Brighton and Hove City
Council [2004] EWHC 2582 (Admin), para 52):
“Over the years the public was first enabled and then
encouraged to participate in the decision-making process. The
fact that, having participated, the public was not entitled to be
told what the local planning authority’s reasons were, if
planning permission was granted, was increasingly perceived
as a justifiable source of grievance, which undermined
confidence in the planning system …”
Accordingly, between 2003 and 2013, local planning authorities were required to
include in the notice of the decision “a summary of their reasons for the grant of
permission” and “a summary of the policies and proposals in the development plan
which are relevant to the decision” (see Town and Country Planning (General
Development Procedure) (England) (Amendment) Order 2003 (SI 2003/2047)
article 5; Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure)
(England) Order 2010 (SI 2010/2184) article 31).
29. This duty was repealed as from 25 June 2013 (Town and Country Planning
(Development Management Procedure) (England) (Amendment) Order 2013 (SI
2013/1238) article 7). The Explanatory Memorandum (paras 7.17-20) indicated that
this was a response to suggestions that the duty had become “burdensome and
unnecessary”, and having regard to the fact that officer reports “typically provide
far more detail on the logic and reasoning behind a particular decision than a
decision notice”, so that the requirement to provide a summary “adds little to the
transparency or the quality of the decision-taking process”; and also having regard
to the “greater level of transparency in the decision-taking process”, resulting from
increased ease of access to information, both on-line and through the Freedom of
Information Act 2000.
30. Officer decisions Since 2014 there has been a duty on a local authority officer
making any decision involving the “grant [of] a permission or licence” to produce a
written record of the decision “along with the reasons for the decision”, and “details
of alternative options, if any, considered and rejected” (Openness of Local
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Government Bodies Regulations 2014 (SI 2014/2095) regulation 7(2)-(3)). This
covers, although it is not limited to, the grant of planning permission.
EIA development
31. Special duties arise where an application (as in this case) involves EIA
development, at whatever level the decision is taken. EIA development is defined as
development listed in Schedule 1 or 2 to the Regulations, in the latter case if the
development is “likely to have significant effects on the environment by virtue of
factors such as its nature, size or location.” Decision-makers must not grant planning
permission “unless they have first taken the environmental information into
consideration”, and “they shall state in their decision that they have done so” (EIA
regulations regulation 3(4)). “Environmental information” is defined as:
“the environmental statement, including any further
information and any other information, any representations
made by anybody required by these Regulations to be invited
to make representations, and any representations duly made by
any other person about the environmental effects of the
development.” (regulation 2(1))
32. Where an EIA application is determined by a local planning authority, the
authority must inform the public of the decision and make available for public
inspection a statement, containing –
“(i) the content of the decision and any conditions attached
to it;
(ii) the main reasons and considerations on which the
decision is based including, if relevant, information about the
participation of the public;
(iii) a description, where necessary, of the main measures to
avoid, reduce and, if possible, offset the major adverse effects
of the development; and
(iv) information regarding the right to challenge the validity
of the decision and the procedures for doing so.” (regulation
24(1)(c))
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This regulation is derived from article 9 of the EU Directive on environmental
assessment (2011/92/EU) (“the EA Directive”), which expresses the duty in similar
terms.
33. Also relevant by way of background is the Aarhus Convention (Convention
on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to
Justice in Environmental Matters) to which this country is a party. The preamble to
the Convention recognises the right of all people to live in a healthy environment
and their duty “both individually and in association with others” to protect it for the
benefit of present and future generations; and the consequent need for effective
public participation, access to information, transparency in decision-making and
access to justice in environmental matters.
34. Article 6, which is mentioned in the preamble to the EA Directive, is headed
“Public Participation in Decisions on Specific Activities”. In addition to certain
listed activities and others which “may have a significant effect on the environment”,
it extends to any activities where public participation is provided for under national
procedures for environmental impact assessment (article 6(1), annex I para 20).
Article 6.9 provides:
“Each Party shall ensure that, when the decision has been taken
by the public authority, the public is promptly informed of the
decision in accordance with the appropriate procedures. Each
Party shall make accessible to the public the text of the decision
along with the reasons and considerations on which the
decision is based.”
Standard of reasons
35. A “broad summary” of the relevant authorities governing reasons challenges
was given by Lord Brown in South Buckinghamshire District Council v Porter (No
2) [2004] 1 WLR 1953, para 36:
“The reasons for a decision must be intelligible and they must
be adequate. They must enable the reader to understand why
the matter was decided as it was and what conclusions were
reached on the ‘principal important controversial issues’,
disclosing how any issue of law or fact was resolved. Reasons
can be briefly stated, the degree of particularity required
depending entirely on the nature of the issues falling for
decision. The reasoning must not give rise to a substantial
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doubt as to whether the decision-maker erred in law, for
example by misunderstanding some relevant policy or some
other important matter or by failing to reach a rational decision
on relevant grounds. But such adverse inference will not
readily be drawn. The reasons need refer only to the main
issues in the dispute, not to every material consideration. They
should enable disappointed developers to assess their prospects
of obtaining some alternative development permission, or, as
the case may be, their unsuccessful opponents to understand
how the policy or approach underlying the grant of permission
may impact upon future such applications. Decision letters
must be read in a straightforward manner, recognising that they
are addressed to parties well aware of the issues involved and
the arguments advanced. A reasons challenge will only succeed
if the party aggrieved can satisfy the court that he has genuinely
been substantially prejudiced by the failure to provide an
adequately reasoned decision.”
36. In the course of his review of the authorities he had referred with approval to
the “felicitous” observation of Sir Thomas Bingham MR in Clarke Homes Ltd v
Secretary of State for the Environment (1993) 66 P & CR 263, 271-272, identifying
the central issue in the case as:
“… whether the decision of the Secretary of State leaves room
for genuine as opposed to forensic doubt as to what he has
decided and why. This is an issue to be resolved as the parties
agree on a straightforward down-to-earth reading of his
decision letter without excessive legalism or exegetical
sophistication.”
37. There has been some debate about whether Lord Brown’s words are
applicable to a decision by a local planning authority, rather than the Secretary of
State or an inspector. It is true that the case concerned a statutory challenge to the
decision of the Secretary of State on a planning appeal. However, the authorities
reviewed by Lord Brown were not confined to such cases. They included, for
example, the decision of the House of Lords upholding the short reasons given by
Westminster City Council explaining the office policies in its development plan
(Westminster City Council v Great Portland Estates plc [1985] AC 661, 671-673).
Lord Scarman adopted the guidance of earlier cases at first instance, not limited to
planning cases (eg In re Poyser and Mills’ Arbitration [1964] 2 QB 467, 478), that
the reasons must be “proper, adequate and intelligible” and can be “briefly stated”
(p 673E-G). Similarly local planning authorities are able to give relatively short
reasons for refusals of planning permission without any suggestion that they are
inadequate.
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38. In the context of the EIA regulations, Mr Reed QC (for CGI) relied on the
fact that under Regulation 24(1)(c)(ii) the duty is limited to the “main” reasons. He
drew an analogy with the former duty of local planning authorities to provide
“summary” reasons for the grant of permission, which was treated as imposing a
less onerous standard than that considered in Porter. Thus in R (Siraj) v Kirklees
Metropolitan Council [2010] EWCA Civ 1286, Sullivan LJ said “summary reasons”
in that context could not be equated with reasons in a Secretary of State’s decisionletter:
“… a decision letter is intended to be a ‘stand-alone’ document
which contains a full explanation of the Secretary of State’s
reasons for allowing or dismissing an appeal. By their very
nature a local planning authority’s summary reasons for
granting planning permission do not present a full account of
the local planning authority’s decision making process.” (para
14)
39. Mr Reed sought to apply this thinking to the duty to give the “main reasons”
under the EIA regulations. He referred to R (Cherkley Campaign Ltd) v Mole Valley
District Council [2014] EWCA Civ 567, para 70, where counsel was recorded as
conceding (apparently without demur from the court) that the duty under the EIA
was no higher than the duty to give “summary” reasons under domestic planning
legislation. I am unable to accept the analogy. I do not read the reference in the EIA
regulations to the “main” reasons as materially limiting the ordinary duty in such
cases. It is no different in substance from Lord Brown’s reference in Porter to the
need to refer only to “the main issues in the dispute”. To my mind the guidance in
Porter is equally relevant in the EIA context.
40. Lang J in R (Hawksworth Securities plc v Peterborough City Council [2016]
EWHC 1870 (Admin) made a more general point about what she saw as the
difference between a planning inspector conducting an “adversarial procedure, akin
to court or tribunal proceedings”, contrasted with a local planning authority as an
administrative body, determining an individual application:
“Its reasons ought to state why planning permission was
granted, usually by reference to the relevant planning policies.
But it is not conducting a formal adjudication in a dispute
between the applicant for planning permission and objectors,
and so it is not required to give reasons for rejecting the
representations made by those who object to the grant of
planning permission.” (para 87)
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41. I am not persuaded that the difference between the two processes bears such
significance. In both the decision-maker may have to take into account and deal
fairly with a wide range of differing views and interests, and reach a reasoned
conclusion on them. Where there is a legal requirement to give reasons, what is
needed is an adequate explanation of the ultimate decision. The content of that duty
should not in principle turn on differences in the procedures by which it is arrived
at. Local planning authorities are under an unqualified statutory duty to give reasons
for refusing permission. There is no reason in principle why the duty to give reasons
for grant of permission should become any more onerous.
42. There is of course the important difference that, as Sullivan J pointed out in
Siraj, the decision-letter of the Secretary of State or a planning inspector is designed
as a stand-alone document setting out all the relevant background material and
policies, before reaching a reasoned conclusion. In the case of a decision of the local
planning authority that function will normally be performed by the planning
officers’ report. If their recommendation is accepted by the members, no further
reasons may be needed. Even if it is not accepted, it may normally be enough for the
committee’s statement of reasons to be limited to the points of difference. However
the essence of the duty remains the same, as does the issue for the court: that is, in
the words of Sir Thomas Bingham MR, whether the information so provided by the
authority leaves room for “genuine doubt … as to what (it) has decided and why”.
Legal remedies
43. In the case of a decision by the Secretary of State or a planning inspector, the
1990 Act provides for a statutory challenge under section 288, on the grounds that
the decision was not within the powers of the Act, or that a “relevant requirement”
(which includes a requirement under the inquiries procedure rules to give notice of
the decision and the reasons for it) had not been complied with. In the latter case the
court must be satisfied also that “the interests of the applicant have been
substantially prejudiced” by the failure (section 288(5)(b)).
44. I note that in the Save case, Lord Bridge identified a single question:
“There are in truth not two separate questions: (1) were the
reasons adequate? (2) if not, were the interests of the applicant
substantially prejudiced thereby? The single indivisible
question, in my opinion, which the court must ask itself
whenever a planning decision is challenged on the ground of a
failure to give reasons is whether the interests of the applicant
have been substantially prejudiced by the deficiency of the
reasons given.” (p 167D-E)
Page 17
I am not convinced with respect that it is helpful so to conflate the two parts of the
statutory formula. Until one has decided on the nature of the breach of the statutory
requirements, it is difficult to determine the nature and extent of any prejudice.
However, that passage needs to be read in the context of what follows (p 168), which
makes clear that Lord Bridge’s principal concern was to emphasise, contrary to the
apparent implication of the judgment of Woolf LJ in the Court of Appeal, that the
burden lay on the applicant to establish both parts of the statutory test.
45. In Save itself, the decision of the House ultimately turned on the adequacy of
the reasons for departing from the policy, rather than lack of prejudice. Lord Bridge
accepted that –
“… an opponent of development, whether the local planning
authority or some unofficial body like Save, may be
substantially prejudiced by a decision to grant permission in
which the planning considerations on which the decision is
based, particularly if they relate to planning policy, are not
explained sufficiently clearly to indicate what, if any, impact
they may have in relation to the decision of future
applications.” (p 167H)
The same point is picked up in Lord Brown’s summary. Lord Bridge did not, as I
understand him, dissent from the view of the Court of Appeal that, had Save been
able to establish a material defect of reasoning, the appropriate remedy was to quash
the permission.
46. Mr Cameron QC (for the Council) argued that a different approach should
apply to a breach of the EIA duty taken on its own. Relying on the decision of the
Court of Appeal in R (Richardson) v North Yorkshire County Council [2004] 1 WLR
1920, he argued that in that context a mere declaration of the breach was sufficient.
Indeed before Mitting J (para 22) this point was conceded by Mr Westaway for
CPRE Kent. Although the point was raised in argument in the Court of Appeal, Laws
LJ apparently found it unnecessary to address the issue, perhaps because he saw the
EIA duty, not as a free-standing duty, but as no more than one of the factors relevant
to the obligation to give reasons in this case.
47. In Richardson, notwithstanding a clear failure to provide a statement of
reasons as required by regulation 21 of the EIA regulations then in force (Town and
Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) (England & Wales)
Regulations 1999), the Court of Appeal held that the appropriate remedy was, not to
quash the decision itself, but to make a mandatory order for the required statement
Page 18
to be provided. In the leading judgment, Simon Brown LJ (para 33) adopted the
reasoning of Richards J (at first instance), who had said:
“49. … the first and most important point in the present case
is that regulation 21(1) looks to the position after the grant of
planning permission. It is concerned with making information
available to the public as to what has been decided and why it
has been decided, rather than laying down requirements for the
decision-making process itself. It implements the obligation in
article 9(1) of the directive to make information available to the
public ‘when a decision to grant … development consent has
been taken’ (emphasis added). That is to be contrasted with
article 2(1) of the Directive, which lays down requirements as
to what must be done before the grant of planning permission
(which may be granted only after a prior assessment of
significant environmental effects).
50. The fact that the requirement focuses on the availability
of information for public inspection after the decision has been
made, rather than on the decision-making process, leads me to
the view that a breach of regulation 21(1) ought not to lead
necessarily to the quashing of the decision itself. A breach
should be capable in principle of being remedied, and the
legislative purpose achieved, by a mandatory order requiring
the authority to make available a statement at the place, and
containing the information, specified in the regulation.”
48. With respect to the judges concerned, I would decline to follow that
reasoning. I find the distinction drawn between notification of the decision, and of
the reasons on which it is based, artificial and unconvincing. In the regulations (as
in the Aarhus Convention, which is now expressly referred to in the Directive) the
provision of reasons is an intrinsic part of the procedure, essential to ensure effective
public participation. I would not necessarily disagree with the court’s disposal of the
appeal in Richardson. Although the committee had not given its own reasons, it had
granted permission in accordance with the recommendation in the officer’s report,
and could be taken to have adopted its reasoning. Simon Brown LJ (para 35) referred
with approval to the comment of Sullivan J (R v Mendip District Council, Ex p Fabre
(2000) 80 P & CR 500, 511) that in such a case –
“… the reasonable inference is that the members did so for the
reasons advanced by the officer, unless of course there is some
indication to the contrary.”
Page 19
49. It is perhaps also relevant that the court was faced with a somewhat extreme
submission (based on observations of Lord Hoffmann in Berkeley v Secretary of
State for the Environment [2001] 2 AC 603, 616-617), that in respect of a breach of
an EU directive the court had no choice in the matter; it was –
“… simply not permitted to regard a breach of the
implementing regulations as curable other than by the outright
quashing of the development permission granted.” (para 38)
Not surprisingly the court found that an unattractive proposition. However, it is now
clear, following recent judgments of this court, that even in respect of a breach of an
EU directive the powers of the court are not so restricted:
“… the court retains a discretion to refuse relief if the applicant
has been able in practice to enjoy the rights conferred by
European legislation, and there has been no substantial
prejudice (per Lord Carnwath, (R (Champion) v North Norfolk
District Council & Anor [2015] UKSC 52; [2015] 1 WLR
3710, para 54, following Walton v Scottish Ministers [2012]
UKSC 44; [2013] PTSR 51, paras 139, 155).”
In Champion itself it was held that this test was met: given that the environmental
issues were of no particular complexity or novelty; there was only one issue of
substance on which each of the statutory agencies had satisfied itself of the
effectiveness of the proposed measures; the public had been fully involved; and Mr
Champion himself having been given the opportunity to raise any specific points of
concern but having been unable to do so (para 60).
Duty to give reasons – Common law
50. Given the existence of a specific duty under the EIA regulations, and the
views I have expressed on its effect, it is strictly unnecessary in the present appeal
to decide what common law duty there may be on a local planning authority to give
reasons for grant of a planning permission. However, since it has been a matter of
some controversy in planning circles, and since we have heard full argument, it is
right that we should consider it.
51. Public authorities are under no general common law duty to give reasons for
their decisions; but it is well-established that fairness may in some circumstances
require it, even in a statutory context in which no express duty is imposed (see R v
Secretary of State for the Home Department, Ex p Doody [1994] 1 AC 531; R v
Page 20
Higher Education Funding Council, Ex p Institute of Dental Surgery [1994] 1 WLR
242, 263A-D; De Smith’s Judicial Review 7th ed, para 7-099). Doody concerned the
power of the Home Secretary (under the Criminal Justice Act 1967 section 61(1)),
in relation to a prisoner under a mandatory life sentence for murder, to fix the
minimum period before consideration by the Parole Board for licence, taking
account of the “penal” element as recommended by the trial judge. It was held that
such a decision was subject to judicial review, and that the prisoner was entitled to
be informed of the judge’s recommendation and of the reasons for the Home
Secretary’s decision:
“To mount an effective attack on the decision, given no more
material than the facts of the offence and the length of the penal
element, the prisoner has virtually no means of ascertaining
whether this is an instance where the decision-making process
has gone astray. I think it important that there should be an
effective means of detecting the kind of error which would
entitle the court to intervene, and in practice I regard it as
necessary for this purpose that the reasoning of the Home
Secretary should be disclosed. If there is any difference
between the penal element recommended by the judges and
actually imposed by the Home Secretary, this reasoning is
bound to include, either explicitly or implicitly, a reason why
the Home Secretary has taken a different view …” (p 565G-H
per Lord Mustill)
It is to be noted that a principal justification for imposing the duty was seen as the
need to reveal any such error as would entitle the court to intervene, and so make
effective the right to challenge the decision by judicial review.
52. Similarly, in the planning context, the Court of Appeal has held that a local
planning authority generally is under no common law duty to give reasons for the
grant of planning permission (R v Aylesbury Vale District Council, Ex p Chaplin
(1998) 76 P & CR 207, 211-212 per Pill LJ). Although this general principle was
reaffirmed recently in Oakley v South Cambridgeshire District Council [2017] 2 P
& CR 4, the court held that a duty did arise in the particular circumstances of that
case: where the development would have a “significant and lasting impact on the
local community”, and involved a substantial departure from Green Belt and
development plan policies, and where the committee had disagreed with its officers’
recommendations. Of the last point, Elias LJ (giving the leading judgment, with
which Patten LJ agreed) said:
“The significance of that fact is not simply that it will often
leave the reasoning obscure. In addition, the fact that the
Page 21
committee is disagreeing with a careful and clear
recommendation from a highly experienced officer on a matter
of such potential significance to very many people suggests that
some explanation is required … the dictates of good
administration and the need for transparency are particularly
strong here, and they reinforce the justification for imposing
the common law duty.” (para 61)
His conclusion was reinforced by reference to the United Kingdom’s obligations
under the Aarhus Convention (para 62; see to similar effect my own comments on
the relevance of the Convention, in Walton v Scottish Ministers [2012] UKSC 44;
[2013] PTSR 51, para 100). Sales LJ agreed with the result, but expressed concern
that the imposition of such duties “might deter otherwise public-spirited volunteers”
from council duties, and might also introduce “an unwelcome element of delay into
the planning system” (para 76).
53. Mr Cameron QC (for the Council) submitted that this decision should be
“treated with care”, against the background of the government’s decision in 2013 to
abrogate the statutory duty to give reasons for grant of permission, planning law
being a creature of statute (see Hopkins Homes Ltd v Secretary of State for
Communities and Local Government [2017] 1 WLR 1865, para 20). The factors
identified by Elias LJ could arise in many cases, and lead to the common law duty
becoming a general rule. He asked us to prefer the view of Lang J (R (Hawksworth
Securities plc) v Peterborough City Council [2016] EWHC 1870 (Admin), para 81)
that a common law duty to give reasons would arise only “exceptionally” and that
“generally, the requirements of fairness will be met by public access to the material
available to the decision-maker”. The present case, he submitted, was not
exceptional in that sense, either in principle or on its own facts.
54. In my view Oakley was rightly decided, and consistent with the general law
as established by the House of Lords in Doody. Although planning law is a creature
of statute, the proper interpretation of the statute is underpinned by general
principles, properly referred to as derived from the common law. Doody itself
involved such an application of the common law principle of “fairness” in a statutory
context, in which the giving of reasons was seen as essential to allow effective
supervision by the courts. Fairness provided the link between the common law duty
to give reasons for an administrative decision, and the right of the individual affected
to bring proceedings to challenge the legality of that decision.
55. Doody concerned fairness as between the state and an individual citizen. The
same principle is relevant also to planning decisions, the legality of which may be
of legitimate interest to a much wider range of parties, private and public (see Walton
v Scottish Ministers [2012] UKSC 44; [2013] PTSR 51, paras 152-153 per Lord
Page 22
Hope). Here a further common law principle is in play. Lord Bridge saw the
statutory duty to give reasons as the analogue of the common law principle that
“justice should not only be done, but also be seen to be done” (see para 25 above).
That principle of open justice or transparency extends as much to statutory inquiries
and procedures as it does to the courts (see Kennedy v The Charity Commission
[2014] UKSC 20; [2015] AC 455, para 47 per Lord Mance, para 127 per Lord
Toulson). As applied to the environment it also underpins the Aarhus Convention,
and the relevant parts of the EA Directive. In this respect the common law, and
European law and practice, march together (compare Kennedy para 46 per Lord
Mance). In the application of the principle to planning decisions, I see no reason to
distinguish between a Ministerial inquiry, and the less formal, but equally public,
decision-making process of a local planning authority such as in this case.
56. The existence of a common law duty to disclose the reasons for a decision,
supplementing the statutory rules, is not inconsistent with the abrogation in 2013 of
the specific duty imposed by the former rules to give reasons for the grant of
permission. As the explanatory memorandum made clear, that was not intended to
detract from the general principle of transparency (which was affirmed), but was a
practical acknowledgement of the different ways in which that objective could
normally be attained without adding unnecessarily to the administrative burden. In
circumstances where the objective is not achieved by other means, there should be
no objection to the common law filling the gap.
57. Thus in Oakley the Court of Appeal were entitled in my view to hold that, in
the special circumstances of that case, openness and fairness to objectors required
the members’ reasons to be stated. Such circumstances were found in the widespread
public controversy surrounding the proposal, and the departure from development
plan and Green Belt policies; combined with the members’ disagreement with the
officers’ recommendation, which made it impossible to infer the reasons from their
report or other material available to the public. The same combination is found in
the present case, and, in my view, would if necessary have justified the imposition
of a common law duty to provide reasons for the decision.
58. This endorsement of the Court of Appeal’s approach may be open to the
criticism that it leaves some uncertainty about what particular factors are sufficient
to trigger the common law duty, and indeed as to the justification for limiting the
duty at all (see the perceptive analysis by Dr Joanna Bell: Kent and Oakley: A Reexamination of the Common Law Duty to Give Reasons for Grants of Planning
Permission and Beyond (2017) 22 Judicial Review 105-113). The answer to the
latter must lie in the relationship of the common law and the statutory framework.
The court should respect the exercise of Ministerial discretion, in designating certain
categories of decision for a formal statement of reasons. But it may also take account
of the fact that the present system of rules has developed piecemeal and without any
apparent pretence of overall coherence. It is appropriate for the common law to fill
Page 23
the gaps, but to limit that intervention to circumstances where the legal policy
reasons are particularly strong.
59. As to the charge of uncertainty, it would be wrong to be over-prescriptive, in
a judgment on a single case and a single set of policies. However it should not be
difficult for councils and their officers to identify cases which call for a formulated
statement of reasons, beyond the statutory requirements. Typically they will be cases
where, as in Oakley and the present case, permission has been granted in the face of
substantial public opposition and against the advice of officers, for projects which
involve major departures from the development plan, or from other policies of
recognised importance (such as the “specific policies” identified in the NPPF – para
22 above). Such decisions call for public explanation, not just because of their
immediate impact; but also because, as Lord Bridge pointed out (para 45 above),
they are likely to have lasting relevance for the application of policy in future cases.
60. Finally, with regard to Sales LJ’s concerns about the burden on members, it
is important to recognise that the debate is not about the necessity for a planning
authority to make its decision on rational grounds, but about when it is required to
disclose the reasons for those decisions, going beyond the documentation that
already exists as part of the decision-making process. Members are of course entitled
to depart from their officers’ recommendation for good reasons, but their reasons
for doing so need to be capable of articulation, and open to public scrutiny. There is
nothing novel or unduly burdensome about this. The Lawyers in Local Government
Model Council Planning Code and Protocol (2013 update) gives the following
useful advice, under the heading “Decision-making”:
“Do make sure that if you are proposing, seconding or
supporting a decision contrary to officer recommendations or
the development plan that you clearly identify and understand
the planning reasons leading to this conclusion / decision.
These reasons must be given prior to the vote and be recorded.
Be aware that you may have to justify the resulting decision by
giving evidence in the event of any challenge.” (their emphasis)
The decision in this case
61. The members of the Dover planning committee on 13 June 2013 had an
unenviable task. The meeting started at six in the evening, probably for most of them
at the end of a hard-working day. They were faced with probably the most significant
planning application for their area for many years. It was no doubt seen as the
culmination of an extended process of formal and informal consultation, triggered
by the submission of the application over a year before, and they may have felt under
Page 24
some pressure to reach a conclusion. The officers’ report, admirable though it was,
had arrived on their desks only a few days before the meeting. Not only was it long
and detailed in itself, but it introduced into the debate a new element of potentially
critical significance (the proposed reduction in the number of houses), on which
there was a sharp difference of view between the expert advisers.
62. The Model Council Planning Code and Protocol, already referred to (para 60
above) contains under the same heading the following advice:
“Do come to your decision only after due consideration of all
of the information reasonably required upon which to base a
decision. If you feel there is insufficient time to digest new
information or that there is simply insufficient information
before you, request that further information. If necessary, defer
or refuse.”
This passage not only offers sound practical advice. It also reflects the important
legal principle that a decision-maker must not only ask himself the right question,
but “take reasonable steps to acquaint himself with the relevant information to
enable him to answer it correctly” (Secretary of State for Education and Science v
Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council [1977] AC 1014, 1065B). That obligation,
which applies to a planning committee as much as to the Secretary of State, includes
the need to allow the time reasonably necessary, not only to obtain the relevant
information, but also to understand and take it properly into account.
63. Even if there was pressure for a decision on the principle of the development,
it seems unfortunate that the members did not apparently consider deferring detailed
discussion of the officer’s proposed modifications, including the contentious issue
of viability. It is difficult to see how the members could have expected to reach a
properly considered decision on the material then before them. With hindsight at
least, given that the application did not come back to the committee for more than a
year, nothing would have been lost.
64. The issue of timing is not directly relevant to the reasons challenge before us,
but it is an important part of the background. It is not in dispute that the Council was
in breach of a specific requirement under the EIA regulations to make available a
statement of “the main reasons and considerations” on which the decision was based.
The only issue is the nature of the remedy. Mr Cameron submits that a declaration
is sufficient and that the reasons can be supplied retrospectively. In so far as this
submission is specific to the EIA duty, following the decision of the Court of Appeal
in Richardson, I cannot accept it for the reasons already given. The report of Oakley
does not indicate what order resulted in that case. In the present case, however, I am
Page 25
satisfied that that is not an appropriate or sufficient remedy. Indeed it is notable that
in the three years since the permission was issued, no attempt has been made to
formulate the reasons so as to make good the admitted breach. This perhaps
underlines the difficulty of reconstructing the operative reasons of the committee on
the basis simply of what is in the minutes.
65. Mr Cameron relies on the views attributed to the three members who were
recorded as supporting the proposal. That was against the background that the
officers had recommended approval for a departure from the AONB policies, for
reasons they had explained, and which the committee can be taken to have accepted.
The only substantial difference was as to whether a reduced dwelling limit should
be imposed. That was seen by the committee as turning on whether the risk to the
viability of the scheme outweighed the harm to the AONB. That issue, he submits,
was fully debated and the majority’s conclusion and reasoning were clearly reflected
in the minutes. The restrictions proposed by the officers were not accepted because
(in the words there recorded) –
“… this could jeopardise the viability of the scheme, deter other
developments and be less effective in delivering the economic
benefits.”
66. This submission rests on the uncertain assumption that the views of the three
members quoted were shared by the majority. The required statement under the
regulations is of the reasoning of the committee as a whole. Even making that
assumption, there are serious gaps. There is no indication of how or why the
members felt able, without further investigation, to reject the view of their own
advisers that the viability of the scheme need not be threatened, and indeed could be
enhanced. It was not enough to rely on the possibility of the scheme being
jeopardised, simply on the say-so of the applicant’s advisers without any reference
to the expert view to the contrary. Another important issue was the officers’
insistence on the need for implementation as “a single comprehensive scheme” to
secure the economic benefits, including in particular the hotel and conference centre,
and for conditions or planning obligations to achieve that. Given that the members
apparently shared their officers’ view of the importance of those benefits, their
omission of any legal mechanism to secure it needed explanation.
67. Furthermore, as Laws LJ pointed out, the economic argument was only one
side of the picture. The other was the members’ view of the harm to the AONB.
Assuming that they accepted their officers’ view as to the seriousness of the potential
damage to the AONB, it became critical to understand the basis of their belief that
it could be “minimised” by “effective screening”. This was of particular significance
in the context of the EIA regulations which require the statement to include a
description of “the main measures to avoid, reduce and, if possible, offset the major
Page 26
adverse effects of the development”. If the committee had reason to think that
landscaping measures could reduce or offset the harm, they needed to be described.
At the very least there needed to be an explanation of how the members reconciled
this assertion with the view of their officers that landscaping would be “largely
ineffective”. This point was left without any explanation.
68. These points were not merely incidental, but were fundamental to the
officers’ support for the amended scheme. The committee’s failure to address such
points raises a “substantial doubt” (in Lord Brown’s words) as to whether they had
properly understood the key issues or reached “a rational conclusion on them on
relevant grounds”. This is a case where the defect in reasons goes to the heart of the
justification for the permission, and undermines its validity. The only appropriate
remedy is to quash the permission.
Conclusion
69. For the reasons indicated above, I would dismiss the appeal and affirm the
order of the Court of Appeal.