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Phantom permissions to be quashed by judicial review

“As the Government’s much vaunted planning reforms go on hold to be reviewed in detail by incoming Housing Minister, Michael Gove, another planning story hit the headlines last week, which raised a chuckle. In particular, Swale Council in Kent, granted permission for three planning applications and rejected two others. Nothing unusual there you might think until the decision notices are more closely inspected.

An application for change of use of agricultural land was rejected on the grounds that “your proposal is whack”, “no mate, proper whack”. A change of use from butchers’ to a takeaway was refused with the official comments reading simply “no”, and “just don’t” and an application to demolish a pub was granted with the planning conditions, “incy” “wincy” and “spider” imposed. It is not entirely clear what would be required for those conditions to be discharged!

It emerges that the bizarre decisions were issued by a junior officer at Mid Kent Planning support team, contracted to Swale Council, who was apparently trying to resolve software issues on the Council’s IT system and thought that they were issuing dummy decisions. However, in publishing the decision notices on the Council’s website, according to established administrative principles, the Council had made its decision, no matter how absurd, and was not able to revisit or reopen it. Whilst there is an ability for errors in decisions issued by the Planning Inspectorate to be corrected under what is known as the ‘slip rule’, no such provisions exist for Councils and once a planning permission has been granted, there is no power to “withdraw” that planning permission on the basis that there has been an administrative error at some stage in the decision making process.

It will now take a formal application for judicial review to quash the decisions and re-determine, with all the ensuing costs and delay that that will entail. A mistake the junior officer and indeed the Council is unlikely to make again!”

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