Save Britain’s Heritage v Number 1 Poultry Ltd: HL 28 Feb 1991

An order allowing demolition of a listed building was possible even though the building itself remained viable. The function of the courts was to validate the decision making process, not the merits of the decision.
Lord Bridge analysed the effect of the requirement to show ‘substantial prejudice’, saying: ‘Whatever may be the position in any other legislative context, under the planning legislation, when it comes to deciding in any particular case whether the reasons given are deficient, the question is not to be answered in vacuo. The alleged deficiency will only afford a ground for quashing the decision if the court is satisfied that the interests of the applicant have been substantially prejudiced by it. This reinforces the view I have already expressed that the adequacy of reasons is not to be judged by reference to some abstract standard. There are in truth not two separate questions: (1) were the reasons adequate? (2) if not, were the interests of the applicant substantially prejudiced thereby? The single indivisible question, in my opinion, which the court must ask itself whenever a planning decision is challenged on the ground of a failure to give reasons is whether the interests of the applicant have been substantially prejudiced by the deficiency of the reasons given. Here again, I disclaim any intention to put a gloss on the statutory provisions by attempting to define or delimit the circumstances in which deficiency of reasons will be capable of causing substantial prejudice, but I should expect that normally such prejudice will arise from one of three causes. First, there will be substantial prejudice to a developer whose application for permission has been refused or to an opponent of development when permission has been granted where the reasons for the decision are so inadequately or obscurely expressed as to raise a substantial doubt whether the decision was taken within the powers of the Act. Secondly, a developer whose application for permission is refused may be substantially prejudiced where the planning considerations on which the decision is based are not explained sufficiently clearly to enable him reasonably to assess the prospects of succeeding in an application for some alternative form of development. Thirdly, an opponent of development, whether the local planning authority or some unofficial body like Save, may be substantially prejudiced by a decision to grant permission in which the planning considerations on which the decision is based, particularly if they relate to planning policy, are not explained sufficiently clearly to indicate what, if any, impact they may have in relation to the decision of future applications.’

Here again, I regret to find myself in disagreement with Woolf LJ who said, 60 P and CR 539, 557: ‘Once it is accepted that the reasoning is not adequate, then in a case of this sort it seems to me that, apart from the exceptional case where it can be said with confidence that the inadequacy in the reasons given could not conceal a flaw in the decision-making process, it is not possible to say that a party who is entitled to apply to the court under section 245 has not been substantially prejudiced.’
The flaw in this reasoning, it seems to me, is that it assumes an abstract standard of adequacy determined by the court and then asserts, in effect, that a failure by the decision-maker to attain that standard will give rise to a presumption of substantial prejudice which can only be rebutted if the court is satisfied that the inadequacy ‘could not conceal a flaw in the decision-making process.’ But this reverses the burden of proof which the statute places on the applicant to satisfy the court that he has been substantially prejudiced by the failure to give reasons. When the complaint is not of an absence of reasons but of the inadequacy of the reasons given, I do not see how that burden can be discharged in the way that Woolf L.J. suggests unless the applicant satisfies the court that the shortcoming in the stated reasons is of such a nature that it may well conceal a flaw in the reasoning of a kind which would have laid the decision open to challenge under the other limb of section 245. If it was necessary to the decision to resolve an issue of law and the reasons do not disclose how the issue was resolved, that will suffice. If the decision depended on a disputed issue of fact and the reasons do not show how that issue was decided, that may suffice. But in the absence of any such defined issue of law or fact left unresolved and when the decision was essentially an exercise of discretion, I think that it is for the applicant to satisfy the court that the lacuna in the stated reasons is such as to raise a substantial doubt as to whether the decision was based on relevant grounds and was otherwise free from any flaw in the decision-making process which would afford a ground for quashing the decision.’
Lord Bridge also considered the nature of the statutory duty on the Minister to give reasons under Rule 17(1) of the 1988 Rules. He said: ‘The three criteria suggested in the dictum of Megaw J. in In re Poyser and Mills Arbitration [1964] 2 QB 467, 478 are that reasons should be proper, intelligible and adequate. The application of the first of these presents no problem. If the reasons given are improper they will reveal some flaw in the decision-making process which will be open to challenge on some ground other than the failure to give reasons. If the reasons are unintelligible, this will be equivalent to giving no reasons. The difficulty arises in determining whether the reasons given are adequate, whether in the words of Megaw J., they deal with the substantial points that have been raised or in the words of Philips J. in Hope v Secretary of State for the Environment 31 P. and C.R. 120, 123 enable the reader to know what conclusion the decision-maker has reached on the principal controversial issues. What degree of particularity is required? It is tempting to think that the Court of Appeal or your Lordships’ House would be giving helpful guidance by offering a general answer to this question and thereby ‘setting the standard’ but I feel no doubt that the temptation should be resisted, precisely because the court has no authority to put a gloss on the words of the statute only to construe them. I do not think one can safely say more in general terms than that the degree of particularity required will depend entirely on the nature of the issues falling for decision.’
Lord Bridge of Harwich
[1991] 1 WLR 153, Times 01-Mar-1991, [1991] 2 All ER 10, [1991] 62 P and CR 105
England and Wales
Citing:
CitedRe Poyser and Mills’ Arbitration 1963
The section at issue imposed a duty upon a tribunal to which the Act applies or any minister who makes a decision after the holding of a statutory inquiry to give reasons for their decision, if requested. A record of the reasons for a decision must . .
CitedHope v Secretary of State for the Environment 1975
. .

Cited by:
CitedLinden Developments Ltd v Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions CA 27-Nov-2002
The developer made it clear in his application that only a development on the large scale envisaged would be satisfactory. The Inspector refused the application, and he appealed saying the Inspector had not said what size of development would have . .
CitedSouth Buckinghamshire District Council and Another v Porter (No 2) HL 1-Jul-2004
Mrs Porter was a Romany gipsy who bought land in the Green Belt in 1985 and lived there with her husband in breach of planning control. The inspector gave her personal permission to continue use, and it had been appealed and cross appealed on the . .
CitedUprichard v Scottish Ministers and Another (Scotland) SC 24-Apr-2013
The appellants challenged the adequacy of the reasons given by the respondents in approving planning policies, in particular the structure plan, adopted by Fife Council for the future development of St Andrews. An independent expert’s report had . .
CitedWind Prospect Developments Ltd v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and Another Admn 5-Dec-2014
The claimant appealed against refusal of permission to erect a six turbine wind farm. The inspector had recommended the plan, but the defendant had decided against it.
Held: The claim failed. The planning inspector’s report is the . .
CitedAA069062014 and Others AIT 30-Aug-2017
Several appellants, all from the same judge, complained of his handling of their cases.
Held: The complaints about the decisions were entirely well-founded: ‘Nobody reading them could detect how the judge reached the conclusion he did, acting . .
CitedDover District Council v CPRE Kent SC 6-Dec-2017
‘When a local planning authority against the advice of its own professional advisers grants permission for a controversial development, what legal duty, if any, does it have to state the reasons for its decision, and in how much detail? Is such a . .

These lists may be incomplete.
Updated: 11 May 2021; Ref: scu.183338