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Local planning authorities' acceptance of cheques in place of green space undertakings is contrary to guidance says judge

Out-Law News | 02 Mar 2012 | 2:17 pm | 1 min. read

It is "extremely surprising" that some local authorities accept cheques from developers making planning applications to compensate for the effect of a development on green space, according to a report of the ruling. 

The practice of cheques being sent and accepted is "extremely surprising ... [and] contrary to guidance", according to a summary of a High Court ruling in the case of Keane Property Ltd and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government issued yesterday.

Keane appealed against the rejection of planning applications for two schemes. In each case it had included cheques with the applications to provide for suitable alternative natural green space (SANGS). This was instead of giving legally binding undertakings in relation to SANGS.

The report of the ruling, which has not yet been published in full, said that "it was very strange that a party could give a cheque to the body in whose decision it had an interest, regardless of the fact that the cheque would not be paid in until after the decision was made".

Keane applied for permission to build eight bungalows and in support of the application included cheques payable to the local planning authority for the provision of SANGS to mitigate the adverse effect of the development.

The local planning authority rejected the application and returned the cheques to Keane and asked Keane to provide unilateral undertakings instead of the cheques.

Keane appealed to the Secretary of State against the refusal of planning permission. The inspector appointed by the Secretary of State to hear the appeal rejected it on the grounds that the development would adversely affect the character and appearance of the area. The inspector's decision discussed the cheques but said that he gave the issue little weight.

Keane then applied to High Court, on a number of grounds, for the inspector's decision to be quashed. One of Keane's grounds of claim was that the inspector had acted in error in the way he dealt with the local authority's return of the cheques.

The High Court ruled that the inspector's decision was reasonable and that Keane's criticisms of the inspector in relation to the cheques were immaterial to the inspector's overall decision.

The Court said that "it was plain that the inspector's view would have been the same whether the cheques had been kept or returned by the local authority", the report said.