Council Obliged to Give Reasons for Approving Stadium Development

There is no statutory requirement for local authorities to give reasons for granting planning consent. However, an important Court of Appeal case concerning a football club's controversial plans to build a new stadium in the Green Belt showed that there is sometimes a common law duty to do so.

Through its president, the club had sought permission to build the stadium, capable of seating 3,000 people, on the outskirts of a country town. The plans also included training and parking facilities and construction of a partially floodlit recreation ground that would be gifted to the local parish council for community use.

In an impressive and detailed report, a planning officer had recommended that consent should be refused on the basis that the project would be an inappropriate development in the Green Belt. Despite the social, recreational and sporting benefits of the scheme, harm would be caused by increased traffic, noise and light pollution. There were thus no very special circumstances justifying the development.

The local authority, however, went its own way and approved the development in principle, subject to further consideration of ecology and access issues. As the proposals represented a departure from the local development plan, they were referred to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, who decided not to 'call in' the application for his own determination. Planning permission was thereafter granted.

A local campaigner mounted a judicial review challenge to the council's failure to give reasons for its decision, but her arguments fell on fallow ground at the High Court. In allowing her appeal, however, the Court of Appeal found that there was an overwhelming case that the council had been under a common law duty to give reasons for granting permission.

The council's planning committee had departed from the clear and careful recommendation of the highly experienced planning officer, and information already in the public domain was insufficient to dispel the obscurity surrounding the council's decision. The dictates of good administration and the need for transparency also weighed in favour of imposing a duty to give reasons.