A litigant in person, George Turner, brought an action against CLG to quash the decision to grant planning permission and other consents for proposed demolition and development work in the South Bank area of London.

The LPA was seeking the provision of 40% affordable housing consistent with the London Plan. The Developer’s viability report concluded that 20% would be the optimum. The LPA’s own report agreed.

The Secretary of State called in the applications and appointed an Inspector to hold an inquiry. The inspector requested the submission of statements of evidence but neither of the viability reports were submitted in full. The planning officer’s evidence had regard to the two viability assessments. After objections voiced by Mr Turner, the local authority’s report was submitted in full but the developer’s report remained undisclosed.

Mr Turner argued that it had not been possible for the Inspector to check the LPA’s consideration of all the relevant information as the developer had refused to disclose their report on the grounds that it contained sensitive financial information.

Balancing the importance of an applicant’s ability to submit confidential material in support of planning applications against the interests of objectors, Collins J found in favour of the Secretary of State.

Applying the case of R (Bedford & Clare) v LB Islington [2002] EWHC 2014 (Admin), it was held that in the event of a call-in, the officer’s report should be produced to the Inspector but no more is required subject to what the applicant may need to include to make out their case. The report commissioned by the local authority had been sufficient to enable the Inspector to form a proper view on viability and there were no reasons to doubt that the local authority’s report had correctly picked up on the material aspects of the developer’s report.

Readers will note the Inspector’s right to rely on the planning officer’s report.  In addition, it will be comforting for developers to know how requests for disclosure of sensitive information will be treated by the Courts in these circumstances.

It will be interesting to see how this judgement will be applied in the future where there is disagreement on viability as between the main parties.

George Turner v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government [2015] EWHC 375 (Admin)