In Oakley v South Cambridgeshire District Council the planning application involved the development of a football stadium in the green belt. The proposal was not in accordance with the development plan. The Planning Committee of SCDC did not follow the strong recommendation of the case officer to refuse the application.

Manuscript notes of the meeting did not demonstrate the basis on which the Committee made its decision. In these circumstances the public should be told “why the Committee considers the development to be justified notwithstanding its adverse effect on the countryside”. The Court of Appeal held that there were sound reasons for ruling that the common law should require reasons to be given for planning decisions unless it was clear from the relevant publicly available materials how the decision must have been reached.

This case does not change the law in England and Wales but does reaffirm the position that whilst there is no statutory obligation to give reasons where planning permission is granted, a common law obligation may arise in appropriate circumstances. In Scotland, Section 43 of the 1997 Act requires planning authorities to give the applicant reasons for the decision. The statutory position in the two jurisdictions therefore differs.

Nonetheless, this is a timely reminder that where a decision-maker on a planning application is minded to determine an application not in line with a recommendation and/or grant consent for development not in accordance with the development plan; the reasons for that decision must be clear, and must stand up to close scrutiny, in order to avoid a legal challenge.

This decision largely chimes with the decision in the successful Mossend freight terminal challenge, where Ministers had failed to explain why they disagreed with the reporter on a number of critical issues or provide sufficient explanation as to why their own reasoning should be preferred. The duty on the Ministers to engage with reporter’s analysis and provide detailed explanation was arguably greater because their decision was contrary to both the LDP and SDP. A new Reporter has been appointed for the Mossend application. Following site visits the Reporter is preparing his report for Ministers.