Gleeson Developments, who received planning permission in error from a planning inspector for a 180-home development at Malmesbury, have won a remarkable fight to keep it at London’s Court of Appeal.
The inspector's decision to grant outline permission was mistakenly sent out on March 18, just hours after Planning Minister Nick Boles MP opted to have it considered directly by Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles.
But now three of the country’s leading judges have upheld it even though it was sent out by mistake.
They overturned a High Court ruling that the permission could be withdrawn for the Secretary of State to look at it again.
Lord Justice Sullivan gave the court’s ruling yesterday without even calling on the developer’s lawyers to develop their written submissions in the case.
The Government’s legal team battled in vain to uphold the High Court ruling of Mr Justice Cranston, but the Court of Appeal ruled that the permission must stand.
The decision effectively revives the planning permission granted to Gleeson Developments Ltd and means that it can only be revoked if compensation is paid.
The High Court decision had meant that no such payment was necessary.
Lord Justice Sullivan ruled that the Secretary of State, Eric Pickles, had not issued a proper “direction” recovering the planning appeal to decide himself until the day after the inspector made his decision, and that an earlier email on the case did not constitute such a direction.
As a result, the inspector still had jurisdiction to decide the appeal when he granted planning permission and the judge said that there was no implied power to withdraw a valid planning permission on the grounds that there had been some administrative error in the decision-making process.
Lord Justice Sullivan said that the law provides a “highly prescriptive” route for the revocation of planning permissions, with payment of compensation.
The planning inspectorate realised the error on March 19, and emailed to inform it that the decision was issued in error and that the case would ultimately be decided by the Secretary of State.
But Gleeson - which had appealed against the earlier decision of Wiltshire Council to refuse its application in March 2012 - launched its High Court claim, arguing that the Government should be forced to stand by the inspector's decision, or pay market value compensation for revoking it.
Mr Justice Cranston had ruled last October that Gleeson’s case had no merit.
He found that any intereference with Gleeson's property rights was minimal, and that it would still receive a fair determination of its plans for Filands, Malmesbury, by the Secretary of State.
Gleeson said a panel of three judges had no difficulty in deciding that the judge was wrong and that the Secretary of State had acted unlawfully. They confirmed that the planning permission granted by the inspector is valid, and they formally quashed the Secretary of State’s attempts to withdraw the permission and to recover it for his own consideration.
Managing director Scott Chamberlain said: "Gleeson Developments is delighted that the Court of Appeal has confirmed the validity of the planning permission for these new homes at Malmesbury.
"We will now work with Wiltshire Council to satisfy the planning conditions so that these much needed new homes, including 30 per cent affordable homes, can be built as soon as possible.
"Thanks to the recent planning consents granted to Waitrose and Dyson, Malmesbury is in an enviable position compared to other settlements in Wiltshire.
"The new employment opportunities, together with these new homes, will provide a solid foundation for substantial economic growth and the social benefits that come with it.”