When is a condition void for uncertainty?

In the recent case of Greaves v Boston Borough Council, the High Court was asked to consider the legality of a noise condition which was claimed to be unenforceable due to lack of certainty. The judge held that the condition was lawful despite expert witnesses on both sides agreeing that the condition would require further definition to be enforced and that one aspect of it would be impossible to comply with in practice. The judge set out the established principles for interpreting conditions:

  • Conditions must be construed in the context of the decision letter as a whole
  • The condition should be interpreted benevolently and not narrowly or strictly
  • A condition will be void for uncertainty only if it can be given no meaning or no sensible or ascertainable meaning, and not merely because it is ambiguous or leads to absurd results
  • There is no room for an implied condition

The judge acknowledged that a condition is to be understood as a reasonable reader would understand it but held that it is not unusual to find planning conditions that require persons with specialist knowledge to comply with them. There may be a number of different methodologies for complying with the condition in this case, which could result in different results, but that did not detract from the fact that the condition could be interpreted and applied. The condition was therefore held to be lawful, as it was not so vague or adjectival that it was not capable of sensible, ascertainable meaning.