Court of Appeal dismissed local resident's objections to the Shell redevelopment

Out-Law News | 18 Jun 2015 | 12:36 pm | 2 min. read

The UK Court of Appeal has dismissed a legal challenge against the redevelopment of the 1950s 27-storey Shell Tower in London made by a local resident, George Turner. 

Under the redevelopment the Shell Tower would remain in place and the eight buildings ranging between five and 37 storeys in height would be built. The buildings will comprise up to 877 new homes, including 98 affordable homes, as well as 76,000 square metres of office space, shops, restaurants and cafes.

Turner argued that the planning inspector "gave an appearance of bias by the way in which he dealt with matters before and in the course of the inquiry and in his report."

Earlier this year High Court judge Mr Justice Collins dismissed Turner's claim but did raise concerns regarding the inspector's behaviour. Following this dismissal the Court of Appeal agreed to hear a legal challenge against the redevelopment on the single ground of bias.

A panel of three judges reviewed each of Turner's submissions and concluded that "none of the matters relied on by Turner, whether taken individually or together, indicate that there was a real possibility that the inspector was biased. The inspector acted properly and without giving any appearance of bias according to the relevant test."

When coming to this conclusion the judges considered the secretary of state's summary of what a "notional fair minded observer" would expect of an inspector's role in this situation.  They also considered relevant parts of The Inspector's Code of Conduct and determined that, based on the limited evidence available, the inspector did not behave "discourteous[ly] to Mr Turner or anyone else at the inquiry. Mr Justice Sales went on to say that they did not "endorse the criticisms made by [Mr Justice Collins]" and did not agree "that the inspector's conduct amounted to judicial misconduct... the inspector's conduct of the inquiry was proper and appropriate."

The judge did acknowledge that some procedural errors were made by the inspector during the inquiry but these were overlooked by all parties involved and "it was a simple mistake [that gave] rise to no impression of bias." 

Planning expert Emma Cottam of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com said "This is an important decision which considers an inspector's management of an inquiry, including the pre-inquiry and reporting stages, in the very public forum of the inquiry itself."  

"The consideration in the judgment of the 'notional fair minded observer' sets out five key aspects which were deemed to be applicable in the present context, however it will be interesting to follow how these considerations will be applied by objectors and inspectors' alike at future inquiries" said Cottam. 

Cottam said: "Additionally, whilst the clarification offered in the judgment will undoubtedly be of great assistance, the distinction between 'substantive unfairness' raised by an objector, balanced against an inspector's responsibility to conduct an inquiry effectively and efficiently, may well however lead to further judicial proceedings being brought in future cases, owing to the potential difficulties of interpretation of the test."