Collins & Pitblado v Thanet DC & Kent CC (Unreported, QBD): C and P brought a claim for misfeasance in public office against the two Councils. The claim arose after the councils refused to grant C & P planning permission to build a house just outside a village. Planning permission was ultimately granted on appeal but C & P were refused their costs of bringing the appeal as the court found that the councils had not behaved unreasonably. C & P argued that Thanet DC had convinced Kent CC to change its mind, that the councils had pretended that the proposed development was not sustainable development in bad faith, and that their findings had been contrary to common law principle of fairness and outside the scope of their powers.
The court held, dismissing the claim, that to prove misfeasance in public office, the claimants had to show bad faith in the sense of the exercise of public power for an improper or ulterior motive, or bad faith inasmuch as the public officer did not have an honest belief that his act was lawful. The allegations against the councils were wholly unsustainable. The statutory framework had made it clear that before granting planning permission, a local authority should consult other planning authorities, and was entitled to take into account representations from consultees. The councils' planning officers had felt that the development was not sustainable; that had been a mistake, but it was not a straightforward case. There had been no evidence of dishonesty. There had been no improper or ulterior motive - the officers had believed their actions were lawful and had behaved perfectly reasonably. Costs on the indemnity basis would be ordered as C & P had made wide-ranging allegations of dishonesty, which they had maintained until the bitter end without evidence. (19 April 2016)
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