November 19, 2020

Multiple planning permissions applying to the same site – a case study

Planning Law Solicitor Tom McPhie discusses a recent case from the Court of Appeal highlighting the issue of multiple permissions applying to the same site.

The case in question relates to Hillside Parks Limited v Snowdonia National Park Authority, with the following facts surrounding the case.

  • On 10 January 1967, Merioneth County Council (MCC) granted full planning permission for 401 dwellings (the 1967 permission) at a site in Aberdyfi, North Wales.
  • The 1967 permission included a masterplan detailing the layout of the site and the location of the dwellings.
  • Work commenced on the first two houses in March 1967, but their locations were different from the masterplan.
  • Several further planning permissions for departures to the masterplan were granted by MCC between the dates of September 1967 and June 1973.
  • MCC was replaced by Gwynedd County Council (GCC) in April 1974.
  • The site was bought by Landmaster Investments Limited (Landmaster) in June 1978
  • In 1985, a dispute arose between MCC and Landmaster. GCC denied that the 1967 permission was still valid. Landmaster issued proceedings.
  • Following a 6-day trial in July 1987, Drake J decided that: (a) all the further planning permissions issued for the site were variations to the 1967 permission rather than additional permissions; (b) the 1967 permission had been lawfully granted; (c) it was a full permission that could be implemented without the need for any further permission or approval of details; and (d) the development had begun in March 1967 and may be completed at any time in the future.
  • Hillside Parks Limited (the Appellant) bought the site in February 1988. Snowdonia National Park Authority (the Respondent) came into existence on 23 November 1995. The Respondent became the local planning authority for the site on 1 April 1996.
  • Several departures from the masterplan were granted to the Appellant by the Respondent between the dates of June 1996 and January 2011.   
  • At the time, only 27 of the 401 dwellings had been built, and the Respondent was obviously concerned that a 50-year old planning permission could potentially lead to more than 370 dwellings being built within the Snowdonia National Park. 
  • The Appellant commenced proceedings for declarations that : (a) the Respondent is bound by the earlier decision by Drake J; (b) that the 1967 permission is a valid and extant permission; and (c) that the development authorised by the 1967 permission may be carried out to completion.

In the High Court, HHJ Keyser QC decided that the whilst Drake J had been entitled to come to the conclusions that he did in 1987 (i.e. that the development permitted by the 1967 permission could be completed at any time in the future), the extent of the development carried out since 1987 rendered the development granted by the 1967 permission a physical impossibility and that future development pursuant to that permission would no longer be lawful.

So, the upshot of the Hillside case is that care must be taken to ensure that so called “drop-in” permissions (i.e. stand-alone permissions for part of an overall authorised development site) do not have the effect of making it physically impossible to carry out the original authorised development. It is easy to think that this would be a case of fact and degree, but consider that the Hillside development authorised in 1967 was for 401 dwellings, and at the time the court decided that the extent of the development carried out so far (pursuant to drop-in permissions) made it physically impossible to carry out further development pursuant to the 1967 permission (and masterplan), only 27 dwellings had been built!

The above case highlights the complexities that can arise from multiple permissions. For specialist legal advice on this and other planning matters, please contact Holmes & Hills Solicitors on 01206 593933.

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Tom McPhie

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