Objectors to planning decisions perform a valuable democratic service by taking their complaints to court, but the Court of Appeal has emphasised in a guideline case that there must come a point where the fundamental principle of finality takes effect and they have to take ‘no’ for an answer.
The case concerned a woman who had consistently opposed planning permissions granted for construction of a total of more than 400 homes on two adjoining sites close to a national nature reserve. Focusing on alleged breaches of European environmental protection rules, she pursued judicial review challenges to both planning permissions to the High Court.
After both claims were dismissed, she was refused permission to appeal against that outcome by a Court of Appeal judge who also subsequently rejected her application to reopen the matter. She remained undeterred, however, and applied afresh to a full panel of three judges for her case to be reopened, also arguing that the matter should be referred to the European Court of Justice for a definitive ruling.
Rejecting her application, however, the Court noted the high public importance of finality being achieved in litigation. That was particularly so in planning cases, where there is a need for speedy determination of issues relating to development and many people other than those directly connected to a case may be affected by the outcome. It would subvert the planning process were unsuccessful litigants able to revive the same arguments repeatedly and without limit, thereby prolonging the proceedings and delaying a certain and final outcome.
Noting that a refusal of permission to appeal normally marks the end of the legal road, the Court found that the woman had failed to show either that her case was exceptional or that she would suffer a real injustice if it were not reopened. There was no probability of her achieving a different result; there was never any tenable basis for an appeal and she had suffered no injustice.
Building works had already commenced on one of the sites, a developer having invested £2 million in the project. In those circumstances, the Court observed that reopening the woman’s case years after the permissions were granted would be likely to cause injustice to the developers.