Monday, 13 March 2017

“Planning involves no law”, says QC

Country Life magazine is not exactly a bundle of laughs, but it did make me laugh out loud last week, when I read an interview in the magazine with Christopher Boyle QC of Landmark Chambers.

In the course of this he is reported to have said on the subject of town planning: “There’s almost no law in it. Most of the public law principles were established in about 1965 and haven’t changed since.” My wife spotted this article, and handing it to me with a broad grin said, “So you’ve been wasting your time for the past 35 years on all those cases you’ve fought, and doing all that writing about planning law!”

Actually, I think I know what Christopher Boyle meant, because he added, “It’s about evidence, facts arguments, and particularly expert opinion.” If one thinks purely in terms of section 78 appeals against the refusal of planning permission, I wouldn’t disagree with this second remark. In the past, I did a fair number of housing appeals, and major retail appeals (superstores), and quite frankly I found it rather boring, precisely because it involved so little law. This is why I moved away from that sort of work into what I would broadly describe as “troubleshooting” – enforcement, compliance, lawful uses, and the legal interpretation of the voluminous body of legislation, both primary and subordinate, that makes up the corpus of our planning law.

Those of us who enjoy a good legal argument (and I certainly include my colleagues in Keystone Law’s planning law team among this number) find the law involved in town and country planning absolutely fascinating, not least because it is ever-changing. Quite apart from endless tinkering with the legislation by successive governments, there is a constant flow of judgments from the superior courts on all sorts of planning law topics, often involving issues of interpretation (of which the East Herts case on which I reported last week is a typical example).

Actually, the interview in Country Life (written by Clive Aslet) is an entertaining read. I see that Christopher Boyle and I do in fact have two interests in common. His favourite building is the Radcliffe Camera (I agree), and we clearly share a love of P G Wodehouse’s Blandings Castle novels. I suspect, however, that our political views might be rather different.

But enough of this airy persiflage; I must get back to the riveting contents of the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987 (as amended), which will form a central part of my next book, currently in draft and due to be published later this year. I’m afraid it won’t be as much fun to read as one of Wodehouse’s period farces. But it’s what I do.



  1. It's the combination of government manipulation but also politics, particularly local and their using (abusing) the fact that planning decisions are often subjective.
    It does seem a pity we have to permit a system that allows (encourages) corruption whilst maintaining the claim that it represents democracy in action.

  2. No law? He needs to get out more. In 1985 the SoS said "Planning is essentially about the use of land and not the identity or characteristics of the user", he also said “The Secretary of State does not consider that conditions should be imposed on planning permissions for private dwellinghouses which have the effect of depriving householders of their normal rights sell or let their houses to whomsoever they wish”.

    Yet here we are in 2017 watching LPAs imposing occupancy restrictions on private dwellings with impunity.

    Where is the law when you need it??

  3. I don't believe that the planning should be, or is, "democratic".

  4. I entirely agree with Andyplanner and have been saying the same thing for years. It is entirely mistaken to view the planning system as part of the democratic process. Local councillors ought not to be allowed anywhere near it!