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Supreme Court confirms planning permission cannot be bought

The Supreme Court has confirmed that a proposed donation to a community fund equated to an attempt to buy planning permission.

The case of R (on the application of Wright) v Resilient Energy Severndale Ltd and Forest of Dean District Council concerned an application for a change of use of land at Severndale Farm from agriculture to the erection of a wind turbine. The application for planning permission included a promise that an annual donation would be made to a local community fund, based on 4% of the turnover from the operation of the wind turbine over 25 years.

In considering the planning application, the Council took the community fund donation into account. In fact, the planning permission imposed a condition in relation to the donation.

The decision was challenged by Mr Wright (a local resident) on the ground that the community fund donation was not a material consideration and should not have been taken into account during the planning process. The Council had acted unlawfully in doing so.

In agreeing with Mr Wright’s stance, the Supreme Court unanimously dismissed the appeal. Lord Sales stated that ‘The community benefits to be provided by Resilient Severndale did not affect the use of the land. Instead, they were proffered as a general inducement to the Council to grant planning permission and constituted a method of seeking to buy the permission sought, in breach of the principle that planning permission cannot be bought or sold.’

The decision is unsurprising. The Supreme Court’s view is clear - any attempt to circumvent the principle that a decision to grant planning permission must not be influenced by monetary considerations that do not directly affect the use of the land to be developed, will be given short shrift.

Contributor: Alexandra Holsgrove Jones

This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at November 2019. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases. For more information see our terms and conditions.

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