Commercial developers should be aware that the hard-fought process of obtaining planning permission for controversial projects may only be a preliminary skirmish in a longer war. The point was powerfully made by a High Court ruling which put proposals for a large-scale crematorium in a scenic coastal location back to square one.
The crematorium, if built on a 5.8-hectare rural site overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, would be one of the largest in the UK. The proposal was the subject of fierce local controversy but the local authority resolved to grant planning permission on the strength of a planning officer’s report. Whilst acknowledging that it was a finely balanced case, the report advised that the benefits of the proposal outweighed any identified harm.
Amongst other things, the developer contended that the area’s increasing population would place pressure on its existing crematoria. Environmental and other benefits would arise from reduced travel times to the new facility. Local objectors, however, put forward numerous grounds of opposition and asserted that the sheer scale of the proposed facility created a risk that it would become an unviable white elephant.
After two local residents launched proceedings, the Court found that the planning officer’s report gave a seriously misleading overall impression of the evidence concerning the project’s viability. The risk that the crematorium might not be fully used – or even built to the full extent permitted, or at all – needed to be spelt out. The local parish council had raised concerns that the permission was capable of being used as a foot in the door for some other form of development.
The report’s analysis of a key local planning policy was also inadequate. That policy stated that business developments in rural locations would only be permitted if they were of appropriate scale or if there was an overriding need for them. The report’s advice in respect of the transport benefits of the proposal was significantly misleading and it expressed no clear conclusion as to whether the proposal complied with certain landscape and environmental protection policies. The planning permission was quashed.