Thursday, 12 August 2010

More material considerations?

I have drawn attention previously to cases in which the materiality of healthy eating and the risk of obesity have been in issue (see “Not-so-fast food” – 13 June).

Another tussle over what is or is not a material consideration in a planning context is currently taking place in a planning inquiry in Bristol. The City Council, acting against their officers’ advice, refused planning permission for a power station which would run on biomass. The argument put forward by objectors (which had swayed the elected members in their decision to refuse planning permission) is that the production of palm oil or other ‘bio-fuels’ on the other side of the world to feed such power plants will do terrible damage to the environment in those areas.

The counter-argument is that such considerations are far too remote from land use issues here or any other ‘planning’ considerations to be material to the determination of a planning application or appeal in this country. I gather the Inspector has already indicated that he is not prepared to take into account as a material consideration the issue of cultivating palm trees or other bio-mass in the Third World in the context of this appeal, which apparently leaves very little else by way of reasons for refusal which can be called in aid to support the refusal of planning permission in this case.

It will be interesting to see the Inspector’s decision letter, and how he deals with the issue of costs if a costs application were to be made. If the objectors feel sufficiently strongly about the matter, it could end up in the High Court, and some further judicial guidance on the limits of material considerations in planning cases might be helpful.

[UPDATE: The Secretary of State acepted his Inspector's recommendation and allowed this appeal. As I expected, a full award of costs was made against the Council. If the Council or a third party objector who took part in the inquiry wishes to challenge the decision, they have only 6 weeks from the date of the decision letter within which to lodge an application in the High Court.]


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