With environmental protection very much on the public mind, ever-increasing weight is being given by planning decision-makers to combating pollution and maintaining air quality. In a case on point, the High Court overturned planning permission for a temporary car park on a plot adjoining an urban primary school.
The disused 1.5-hectare site was set in an inner-city area that was being targeted for a major regeneration project. It had in the past been used to provide car parking for a retail park that had been demolished. The permission, which was granted by the local authority to itself, authorised resumption of the site’s use as a 440-space car parking facility for a fixed period of two years.
Upholding an environmental campaigner’s judicial review challenge to the permission, the Court noted that much of the expert advice the council received prior to its decision was based on a mistaken assumption that the site had the benefit of an existing planning consent for car park use.
That error was picked up on and compounded in a planning officer’s report which wrongly advised councillors that the site’s historic use as a car park was the baseline from which the proposed development’s impact on air quality should be measured. The correct baseline, the Court ruled, would have been to treat the site as an abandoned car park or an empty piece of land.
High levels of nitrogen dioxide in the area had given cause for concern and the site was located in an Air Quality Management Area where the council was required to develop a clear, robust and meaningful policy with a view to improving air quality. The council’s focus on the historic use of the site had precluded any meaningful consideration of how that objective might be achieved.
Also finding that the council failed to have regard to the public sector equality duty, the Court noted the potentially disproportionate impact some types of development may have on those who suffer from respiratory conditions. The presence of the adjoining school made such factors particularly important because it is well known that children are more susceptible to the ill effects of nitrogen dioxide.