Thornton Hall Hotel Limited v Wirral Council

The local authority granted planning permission for the erection of three semi-permanent marquees. It decided that the permission was to be for a period of five years but failed to attach this condition to its final published decision. This meant that the planning permission was given for an indefinite period.

The claimant, a competitor to the beneficiary of the planning permission, sought judicial review of the council's decision notwithstanding that it was significantly out of time - the standard rule being that a judicial review challenge shall be brought promptly and in any event within three months (now six weeks for planning decisions) of the relevant decision. The council did not defend the claim on the timing point, but it was contested on this basis by the interested party (the beneficiary of the planning permission).

Time limits for judicial review claims are strictly enforced, but they can be extended at the discretion of the court, i.e. where it considers there is a good reason to depart from the general rule and allow the extension of time being sought.

In this case, the Court determined that, while it clearly would have been preferable for the error to have been brought to light earlier, it was in the public interest to allow the extension of time given the effect of the error. A key factor the Court took into account in reaching its decision was that the beneficiary of the planning permission (the interested party) was aware that the council had made the error but failed to draw the council's attention to it - instead it chose to remain silent about it. It was therefore unattractive for it to claim that the claimant and the council were responsible for the delay in the issue coming to light. The judge confirmed that if it was not for this factor the extension of time may otherwise have been refused.

In a rolled-up hearing for both permission and the substantive claim, having exercised its discretion to extend the time period for bringing the judicial review and granted permission for the claimant to bring the judicial review, the Court proceeded to allow the substantive claim with regard to the validity of the indefinite planning permission. It then quashed the indefinite planning permission.