Secretary of State Admits ‘Apparent Bias’

June 11, 2020

By Peter Dixon

The Secretary of State has submitted to judgment in a challenge brought by the local planning authority to his decision to allow a planning appeal for a large housing development in London, accepting that the decision displayed apparent bias in favour of the developer.

In January this year the Secretary of State allowed an appeal against the decision of Tower Hamlets Borough Council (supported by the Mayor of London) to refuse planning permission for a scheme to develop some 1,540 dwellings in five towers of between 19 and 44 storeys in height on the Isle of Dogs.

In doing so the Secretary of State disagreed with his Inspector, who had recommended refusal, finding that the proposal would fail to preserve the settings of  the Royal Naval College and Tower Bridge (both Grade 1 Listed Buildings) and the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site and that the benefits of the development would not outweigh the harm.

The Secretary of State’s decision was issued on the day before the Council adopted a new Local Plan and Community Infrastructure Levy Charging Schedule

The LPA and the Mayor of London challenged the decision, alleging that timing of the decision demonstrated apparent bias in favour of the developer, and asked the Court to order disclosure of documents which might have shed light on whether the Secretary of State had been influenced by the desire to help the developer save money by avoiding increased CIL charges as a consequence of the new charging schedule.

The Secretary of State has consented to the decision being quashed on the grounds that the timing of the decision would lead a fair minded and informed observer to conclude that there was a real possibility that he was biased in favour of the developer.

The appeal will now have to be redetermined.