High court win for regional law firm

HIGH FLYER: Lauren Day, who is a partner and head of dispute resolution at Ellis Jones Solicitors. Lauren led on the case with solicitor Conor Maher

HIGH COURT WIN: Lauren Day, who is a partner and head of dispute resolution at Ellis Jones Solicitors. Lauren led on the case with solicitor Conor Maher

A Dorset law firm has won a High Court victory to overturn a local authority planning decision.

Ellis Jones Solicitors claimed the success in a Judicial Review – Spedding v Wiltshire Council – centred on a former poultry farm’s change of use for commercial storage at Landford, near Salisbury.

The law firm acted on behalf of nearby resident Robert Spedding after the local authority decided that the change was allowed as ‘permitted development’ without the need for prior planning approval.

High Court judge The Hon Mr Justice Fraser ruled in favour of Ellis Jones’ client and made an order quashing the decision of the council alongside a declaration that the proposed change of use could not proceed. He also made an order requiring the council to pay costs.

Ellis Jones Partner Lauren Day and Solicitor Conor Maher of Ellis Jones’ Dispute Resolution team led on the case.

Lauren said: “Judicial reviews can be drawn out and costly affairs so we are incredibly pleased to have reached this successful resolution for our client.

“It is a vindication of his and others in the community’s objections and concerns about the change of use at this property.

“It demonstrates the importance of local authorities understanding, and giving due consideration to, the fundamental basis of any proposal for change of use where they are being asked to consider prior approval.

“This case will reverberate around local authority planning teams nationwide and resonate with many local residents who find themselves opposed to certain forms of development.”

Ellis Jones – with more than 170 staff including 21 Partners – instructed barristers Landmark Chamber to represent its client in court.

The case – R (on application of Spedding) v Wiltshire Council (2022) EWHC 34 (admin) was heard on January 14 2022 before judgement was handed down on February 18.

It came after removals company Schepens International Ltd, the Interested Party in the case, had submitted notification to the Council in November 2020 of its intention to change the use of a poultry house and hard standing for flexible commercial use – including storage of household goods and shipping containers.

The company subsequently alleged that the change of use was permitted – and thus prior approval was not required – under Class R of Part 3 of Schedule 2 to the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015.

The council decided that, under Class R, the change of use was a permitted development and that therefore prior approval was not required.

Mr Spedding, along with various other members of the local community, had objected to the change of use of the farm on various legal bases, as well as the basis that it would significantly impact upon his enjoyment of his property on account of the increased traffic, including HGV traffic, to the site.

As claimant he brought proceedings through Ellis Jones on the basis that prior approval of the council was required for the change of use, and thus the decision of the council not to require prior approval was unlawful and should be quashed.

Three of his four grounds of challenge were upheld:

  • that the council had failed to consider whether the proposed use was within the definition of the curtilage of the building, and that it had failed to undertake a comparative exercise as required by the relevant legislation.
  • that the council was under a duty to give adequate reasons as to its decision, and that it failed to do so in this case.
  • that the council took into account irrelevant and immaterial information when making its decision – particularly in respect of traffic concerns – and committed an error of law in its decision making.

Solicitor Conor Maher said: “The council failed to undertake the legally required comparative exercise by a failure to compare the previous use with the proposed use.

“This was a key failing which could have been avoided by diligent application of the existing regulations.

“The most important and arguably far-reaching principle of the Judgment is the Court’s finding that where a proposed use does not fall within the definition of a permitted development (within Class R), the council has no power to determine that prior approval is not required.

“Local authorities facing decisions in circumstances where a proposed use is not capable of satisfying Class R have no option but to determine that prior approval is required – there is no discretion on this point.”

Ellis Jones – with six offices across the South and London – has advised clients in Judicial Review proceedings across a host of sectors including planning, education, health, and regulatory.

Read more on the Ellis Jones website here.