The High Court has recently quashed a planning decision of a council which – being in two minds about the environmental effects of a development – decided not to require an environmental impact assessment (EIA) but imposed conditions just in case. The case could benefit developers as councils may now think twice before adding on conditions.

The dispute related to a lorry park and other development at Great Ryburgh near Fakenham. North Norfolk council decided not to require an EIA but had simultaneously ordered water quality testing to ensure pollutants were not contaminating a nearby river. A local pressure group which objected to the scheme lodged the challenge alleging that such a dual stance was irrational.

The court has now told the council to reconsider their decision, saying that they were not allowed to conclude there would be no likely significant effects but impose conditions anyway – they had to choose one route or the other.

Ironically, it is often an attempt to meet, at least in part, the objections of such pressure groups which can lead councillors to add such conditions. The long term effect of this judgment may be to make councils think twice before doing so unless it can be legally justified but also risks more requirements for EIA. There is an opportunity for developers too in resisting politically motivated "tag-on" conditions: rather than claim the conditions are unreasonable, excessive or too costly, they can argue that they are legally wrong.