Reasons …. Who Needs Reasons?

Notwithstanding the considerable amount of the Parliamentary time currently being spent on Brexit, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government has still found space to issue a Written Ministerial Statement (WMS) on 26 March 2019 in which he announced that he will no longer give reasons for calling-in or declining to call-in planning applications. A copy of the statement can be found here.

Regardless of upon which side of the planning fence you sit, this is unlikely to be welcome news. But, perhaps the Minister had something else in mind …

Theirs not to reason why,

Theirs but to do and die

Alfred, Lord Tennyson – The Charge of the Light Brigade

The power to call-in planning applications under s77 Town and Country Planning Act 1990 gives the Secretary of State a wide discretion in his decision-making. In 2001, the then Government announced that it would give reasons for decisions to call-in or not to call-in planning applications “in the interests of transparency, good administration and best practice”. This practice was confirmed in March 2010 and no change was made when the policy criteria for calling-in was amended by WMS in October 2012.

The latest WMS is the, perhaps not entirely unexpected, fall-out from the case of Save Britain’s Heritage v Secretary of Statement for Communities and Local Government and others [2018] EWCA Civ 2137 in which Save successfully argued that under existing policy ministers were obliged to give reasons when they decline to call in planning applications. The Secretary of State’s position was that, at some unknown date early in 2014, a decision had been taken not to give reasons for decisions declining to call in an application and that, since then, such decision letters have been issued without giving reasons. Even leaving aside that this change in policy was not communicated to the wider public, it transpired that no-nobody in the Department recalled or had in mind the unequivocal promise made in 2001 (and repeated in 2010) – it had been forgotten.

Transparency, good administration and best practice be damned.


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