A fundamental principle of good government is that anyone on the receiving end of an adverse decision is entitled to know why it was made. In a case on point, the High Court came to the aid of a housing developer who could only speculate as to the reason why it had been refused a grant of planning permission.
The developer wished to build 203 new homes in the countryside, close to a market town. The local authority refused planning permission despite advice from one of its planning officers that it should be granted. The developer appealed to a government planning inspector who, following a public inquiry, recommended to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government that the proposal should be approved.
In refusing to grant permission, however, the Secretary of State disagreed with his inspector's view that the council's assertion that it had in hand a five-year supply of deliverable housing land was over-optimistic. He estimated that the council could deliver 10,000-10,500 new homes, sufficient to last up to 6.2 years and comfortably exceeding the target set by the National Planning Policy Framework.
Upholding the developer's challenge to that decision, the Court noted that by the time it was reached – more than two years after the original planning application – not even the council was asserting that it could demonstrate a five-year supply of housing land. The developer's plea that the supply fell well short of that target was backed up by an expert report from planning consultants.
The Secretary of State had given no explanation for the figures he had adopted and the means by which he had arrived at them was a matter of pure speculation. His reasoning was entirely undisclosed and the developer had suffered prejudice, in that it had been left with no understanding of why its figures had been rejected. The Secretary of State's decision was quashed and he was directed to reconsider the planning application in the light of the Court's ruling.