The general principle that the courts are sympathetic to planning authorities when minor procedural errors are made, especially when there has been a timely attempt to rectify them, is not universal, as shown by two recent cases which indicate the extent to which systems issues can affect planning decisions.
In the first, the failure of a district council to take any enforcement action when a holiday home had been in occupation during the winter for more than ten years, in breach of planning conditions, led to their later attempt to take enforcement action failing in the courts.
In the second case, an objector to a planning decision regarding a garage had no statutory right to be informed of an oral hearing but he was not informed due to a clerical error. He was thus unable to make representations. The court decided that he had been treated unfairly with the result that the planning decision was quashed. The local authority had an established course of practice to make interested parties aware of such hearings. The claimant therefore had a legitimate expectation that he would be informed, despite the fact that the decision in this case was made by the Secretary of State. Had the council not usually followed the practice of making interested parties aware, he could not have claimed to have had a legitimate expectation of being informed.
That both of these cases reached the courts was essentially due to systems issues – a failure to take timely action in the first case and a failure to follow normal procedures in the second.