Objectors to major infrastructure developments often contend that planning consent has been granted prematurely or in breach of a legitimate expectation. However, in a case concerning a hugely controversial proposal to extend a regional airport’s runway, such arguments failed to convince the High Court.
A local authority resolved by a majority to grant planning consent for the 164-metre extension following a tense, 20-hour meeting. The decision followed an extensive public consultation exercise. Planning permission was not formally granted at the meeting, but was issued to the airport’s operator some weeks later.
Challenging the permission, a campaign group argued that the council had breached objectors’ legitimate expectation that its final decision would be delayed. It asserted that the council was obliged to stay its hand pending the decision of the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities whether or not to call in the application for central government determination, thereby triggering a public inquiry.
Rejecting that argument, the Court found that the council had never given any clear and unequivocal promise that it would follow that course. Although it had informally consented to delaying its final decision while the Secretary of State considered the matter, its agreement to do so was not open ended. The council made it plain that it was not agreeing to any further delay beyond a particular date, by which time the Secretary of State would have had six weeks to consider his position.
The Court ruled that the council in any event had no power to give an irrevocable undertaking or promise that it would delay its decision indefinitely. To do so would have been inconsistent with planning legislation and, in particular, the council’s duty to determine the planning application before it. Other arguments put forward by the campaign group were also rejected and its challenge was dismissed.