Ali Williams comments on the recent case of BISHOP'S STORTFORD CIVIC FEDERATION (Claimant) v EAST HERTFORDSHIRE DISTRICT COUNCIL (Defendant) & (1) ANLEY TRUSTEES LTD (2) MAISON ANLEY PROPERTY NOMINEE LTD (Interested Parties) (2014) as follows -

Should local councillors who are not members of the local authority’s planning committee have the right to attend planning committee meetings and address the committee? This issue was considered by the High Court in a recent case which concerned an application for judicial review of the grant of planning permission. The claimant argued that the decision to grant permission was flawed due to remarks made by a member of the local authority executive who was not a member of the committee.

In the case Cllr Tindale, who was not a planning committee councillor, attended the planning committee meeting at which the vote on whether to grant planning permission was to take place, and addressed the committee. As a result of complaints made, the local authority’s standards committee resolved that his intervention had been a breach of the local authority’s code of conduct.

The court disagreed with this finding and held that, in principle, any councillor could attend and address a meeting of the planning committee, so long as the committee gave permission and there was no provision to the contrary.

The court also held that there was no reasonable basis for concluding that the committee would have voted differently had Cllr Tindale not been there. It was noted that courts have long appreciated the difficulty of discerning the basis of collective decision-making; in fact, the court’s view was that asking individual councillors to explain their voting was "deplorable", and that such an analysis should not take place given the training and expertise of planning committee members.

The judgment in this case is good news for local authorities who wish to allow non-planning committee councillors to attend and speak at the meetings, so long as the planning committee ensures that it bases its decisions on planning considerations alone