High Court dismisses judicial review claim – Rules preventing members voting banner


High Court dismisses judicial review claim – Rules preventing members voting

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In R (on the application of Spitalfields Historic Building Trust) v Tower Hamlets LBC [2022] the High Court dismissed a claim for judicial review against Tower Hamlets LBC’s decision to grant planning permission for the redevelopment of an old brewery to a mixed use comprising office, retail, gym and restaurant uses.

The application was first considered at the development committee in April 2021 and five out of the six members were present at the meeting. They all voted to defer the application in order to enable planning officers to liaise with the applicant regarding the terms under a planning obligation for the provision of affordable workspace and independent retail space. Tower Hamlets LBC’s constitution stated that where an application was deferred and its consideration recommenced at a subsequent meeting, only committee members who were present at the previous meeting would be able to vote. It also restricted public speaking at deferred committees where the deferral was for a substantive reason.

Following discussions with the applicant regarding the terms of the proposed planning obligation, the application was subsequently approved at a development committee in September 2021. Only three of the members at the April 2021 committee were present at this latter committee and of those two voted in favour and one against. The claimant’s request to speak was refused on the basis that public speaking had already taken place. Tower Hamlets LBC duly granted the planning permission.

The claimant challenged the grant of planning permission on basis that it had been unlawful to prevent members from voting at the September 2021 committee if they had not been present at the April 2021 meeting that deferred the application. The claimant also contended that as there had been substantive changes to the terms of the proposed planning obligation, public speaking should have been allowed.

The High Court dismissed the claim and held that while every member had a right to vote at a committee, this could be excluded by statutory authority. It was held that the restriction on voting was authorised by Tower Hamlets LBC’s constitution and the exclusion on members’ rights to vote was authorised by a standing order made under the Local Government Act 1972. As a consequence, it followed that the deferred meeting voting rule was not unlawful.

It was further held that Tower Hamlets LBC’s constitution did not provide a delineation between when public speaking would or would not be permitted on deferred applications. They were not drafted precisely and did not fall to be interpreted as if in a statute It was held that Tower Hamlets LBC had exercised its discretion on public speaking lawfully and that the claimant had already. made written and oral representations in advance of the April meeting. The claimant had made written representations in advance of the September committee meeting and much of those representations had been directed at matters other than those proposed amendments to the planning obligation.

This article is for general guidance only. It provides useful information in a concise form. Action should not be taken without obtaining specific legal advice.
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