Planning Permission Decision quashed due to apparent bias

October 21, 2015

Stuart Jessop comments on Kelton v Wiltshire Council [2015] EWHC 2853 (Admin)

The grant of planning permission for a residential development, which included affordable housing, had to be quashed by the High Court as tainted by apparent bias where one of the councillors who had voted in favour of the development was a director of the housing association likely to be awarded the contract to provide the affordable housing part of the scheme.

Although the housing association had not been awarded the contract for the development they were likely to have been. The court observed that the association had committed time, resources and expertise to working with developers over the affordable housing part of the project and that, therefore, the councillor’s private interests as a director of the association were engaged in that he and the association shared the same interest in having the planning permission approved. It is worthy of note that had he withdrawn and not voted the planning permission would have been refused.

The court stated that the legal test for apparent bias was whether the fair-minded and informed observer, having regard to all material facts, would conclude that there was a real possibility of bias. Therefore, it held that the councillor’s participation in the planning meeting gave rise to an appearance of potential bias. it was plainly in the association’s interest and those of the councillor as its director, for the planning permission to be approved.

The case serves to remind those who are involved in such decisions that careful attention needs to be applied and, if appropriate, advice sought when considering the interests of committee members and any potential for apparent bias.

The judgment in the case can be found here