Hulme v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government & Others (2011)

This Court of Appeal case concerned planning permission granted for a nine-turbine wind farm. The appellant, a local resident, argued that the inspector had erred in law in granting planning permission on appeal. The court considered whether or not two conditions imposed on this planning permission were capable of achieving their objectives of preventing unacceptable aerodynamic noise levels from the "swish" of the turbines' blades. The appellant argued that the drafting of the conditions meant that they did not provide appropriate mechanisms to evaluate the level of noise from the wind turbines or to enforce the conditions which specified the maximum acceptable noise levels.

The court reviewed the established legal principles on interpretation of planning conditions and held that if conditions can be given a sensible and reasonable interpretation when read in context, they should be. Patten, LJ stated that a lack of verbal and grammatical completeness should not defeat the purpose of a condition if it would be obvious to the reasonable person, with knowledge of all the relevant background material, what the condition's meaning and effect is.

Although the court was prepared to interpret the conditions here as capable of preventing unacceptable noise from the wind turbines, it is clear that in order to prevent any possible ambiguity or challenge, caution should be taken by local authorities to ensure that planning conditions are clearly drafted in the first place. Conditions should specify the exact mechanisms and controls by which they are to negate undesirable effects resulting from proposed developments and, if necessary, how such controls can be enforced.