Wednesday 25 June 2014

Legal Position for Planning Committee

Less than a handful of residents have questioned the appropriateness of me participating in the decision making process when a planning application comes forward for The Heights primary school.

I have made no secret of the fact that I support the setting up of this much-needed school for families in my ward, however I am remaining impartial over where it is sited.

Below is Reading Borough Council's legal team's advice, together with a shorter follow-up email lower down.

From: Quayle, Steven
Sent: 12 June 2014 15:57
To: Ballsdon, Isobel (Councillor)
Cc: Brooks, Chris; Bell, Alison; Roughan, Kiaran; Wood, Andrew; Dean, Robert
Subject: RE: New FO: Request for Legal advice

Dear Councillor Ballsdon

Chris Brooks has asked me to respond to your e-mail below. It raises the possibility, given your current position and intentions, of an allegation that may be raised against you of apparent or actual bias/predetermination if an application for planning permission comes before PAC. I consider that your approach is what a reasonable member of the public would expect an elected Member to do and this would not debar you from taking part at PAC including voting on the application if you wished to do so.

I take this  line because the law on predetermination has been relaxed by the courts in recent years with judges recognising the democratic role that Councillors have in the planning context. This was expressed in the High Court in 2006 where the judge said “Councillors will inevitably be bound to have views and may have expressed them about issues of public interest locally. Such may, as here, have been raised as election issues. It would be quite impossible for decisions to be made by elected members whom the law requires to make them if their observations could disqualify them because it might appear that they have formed a view in advance”

He went on to say “..Unless there is positive evidence to show that there was indeed a closed mind I do not think that prior observations or apparent favouring of a particular decision will suffice to persuade the court to quash the decision”

This view was endorsed by the Court of Appeal in another case two years later. This approach also received statutory status by virtue of Section 25(2) of the Localism Act 2011 which means that in so far as prior expressions of opinion are concerned (or for that matter other means of prior indication of view) these are not themselves sufficient to impugn the decision.

In short the law requires a Member to have an open mind at the point of any planning decision but not an empty one.

I hope this helps but if you require any clarification/further assistance please do not hesitate to contact me.

Steven Quayle

From: Ballsdon, Isobel (Councillor)
Sent: 12 June 2014 23:14
To: Quayle, Steven
Cc: Brooks, Chris
Subject: Supplementary: Request for Legal advice

Dear Steven

Sorry I have just thought of a supplementary question:  May I have your permission to publish your response on my website please?

Kind regards


Cllr Isobel Ballsdon
Mapledurham Ward
Mob:  07717 292003

From: Quayle, Steven
Sent: 23 June 2014 15:28
To: Ballsdon, Isobel (Councillor)
Cc: Brooks, Chris
Subject: RE: Supplementary: Request for Legal advice

Dear Councillor Ballsdon

I apologise for the delay in responding to your e-mail below. I am content for you to publish the advice on your web site with the caveat that it is the law as it is now. Although this is not an area of law that changes frequently a judgement of the High Court could change the position.

Steven Quayle