Landmark wind farm ruling overturned after court finds planning inspector acted ‘beyond her powers’

The Court of Appeal has overturned a landmark High Court ruling, finding that a planning inspector acted "beyond her powers" in allowing a variation to the planning conditions attached to a wind farm.

Carmarthenshire County Council approved the development of a wind farm subject to 22 conditions, including a 100-metre restriction on the tip height of the turbines. In August 2016, the developer, Energiekontor, applied to the council under section 73 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 for the removal of that condition and put up taller 125 metre turbines. 

The council refused the application, but Energiekontor successfully appealed to a planning inspector, who granted permission for the taller turbines. A challenge to the inspector's decision was brought by professor John Finney, but the planning permission was upheld by the High Court in a landmark judgment last November.

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Town and Country Planning Act 1990

In force/
Current
Legislation
England, Wales
Published
03 Mar 2016

Commentary

07/07/2015 Amending Act (Planning (Wales) Act 2015) published., 27/10/2015 Amending Order (WSI 2015/1794) published., 22/02/2016 Amending Regulations (WSI 2016/53) published, in relation to Wales only., 27/04/2017 Amending Act (Neighbourhood Planning Act 2017) published.
02/11/2017 Amending Regulations (SI 2017/1012) published., 28/11/2018 Amending Regulations (SI 2018/1232) published.

Compliance Dates

24/05/1990 Received Royal Assent

Characteristics

Subject

Land and development

Source

OPSI (Office of Public Sector Information)

Affected Sectors

Mining and Quarrying Construction
ECM

Town and Country Planning Act 1990

Document Status: In force/Current

Scope: England, Wales

Commentary:

07/07/2015 Amending Act (Planning (Wales) Act 2015) published., 27/10/2015 Amending Order (WSI 2015/1794) published., 22/02/2016 Amending Regulations (WSI 2016/53) published, in relation to Wales only., 27/04/2017 Amending Act (Neighbourhood Planning Act 2017) published.
02/11/2017 Amending Regulations (SI 2017/1012) published., 28/11/2018 Amending Regulations (SI 2018/1232) published.

Compliance:

24/05/1990 Received Royal Assent

At the time, experts concluded that the judgment could allow developers far greater leeway to amend existing permissions without having to resubmit applications from scratch. Now, however, three Court of Appeal judges have upheld professor Finney's appeal against that decision, ruling that the inspector simply had no power to decide as she did.

Lawyers for the Welsh Government had expressed concern that a ruling in professor Finney's favour would lead to a curtailment of their ability to refine development proposals after the granting of planning permission, as more information comes to light about what might be financially viable or physically deliverable.

Giving the court's ruling, Lord Justice Lewison said there could be no challenge to the inspector's exercise of her planning judgment. The sole issue in the case was whether she had power under section 73 to grant planning permission for a proposal that was not covered by the description of the development in the body of the original planning permission.

Although local authorities have power to discharge conditions attached to planning permissions, or replace existing conditions with new ones, the judge said that such conditions are invalid if they alter the extent or nature of the development originally permitted.

On a true interpretation of section 73, it was not open to the inspector to alter the description of the development contained in the operative part of the planning permission, he ruled.

The judge, who was sitting with Lord Justice David Richards and Lord Justice Arnold, noted that section 73 on the face of it enables grants of permission for developments without complying with conditions subject to which a previous permission has been granted.

However, the judge ruled that it cannot be used to "change the description of the development" and, by purporting to do that, the inspector had acted beyond her statutory powers.

Lord Justice Lewison did not accept that the impact of the court's decision on developers would be as dire as suggested. If material changes to existing planning permissions were proposed, he could see no objection to fresh planning applications being required.

The judge concluded: "I would allow the appeal and quash the inspector's decision because it was beyond her powers."

The court's decision did not affect the validity of the original planning permission to which the 100-metre height restriction was attached.

Finney v Welsh Ministers & Ors. Case Number: C1/2018/2922

A version of this article first appeared in ENDS’ sister title Planning

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