What is a 'Controversial' Planning Application? High Court Gives Guidance

If you object to a planning application, you are perfectly entitled to encourage others to join you in voicing opposition. However, as a High Court ruling showed, the fact that objections may, in effect, come from a single source is relevant to the question of whether a proposed development should be viewed as controversial.

The case concerned a planning consent granted for a night shelter for the homeless in a listed building, another part of which was occupied by a dance studio. A total of 26 objections to the application were received, all but one of which related to the development's impact on the studio and its customers.

Concerns were expressed that difficulties would be caused to dance students, some of them children, by homeless people congregating outside the studio and that homeless people resorting to the shelter would find it difficult to sleep so close to a business that played music late at night.

The consent was granted by a planning officer, using delegated powers, on the basis that the proposal was unlikely to be of a controversial nature. The studio contended that, given the number of objections, that view was irrational. In mounting a judicial review challenge to the consent, it asserted that the application should have been referred to the council's development control committee for determination.

Rejecting the studio's complaints, however, the Court observed that there is nothing inherently controversial in the provision of accommodation for homeless people. In assessing whether the application was controversial, the officer was entitled to have regard to the identity of the objectors and to the possibility that their opposition may have been sought or encouraged by the studio.

Any such encouragement did not indicate that the objections were insincere, but the Court observed that it might well indicate that the people concerned may not have felt strongly enough about the matter to object of their own accord. The officer was entitled to conclude that, rather than being controversial, the application was of interest only to a narrow group of people.