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Court Rejects Inconsistent Planning Decision

The procedures for obtaining planning permission are a frequent source of delay and dispute, especially where inspectors reject planning applications for reasons that do not seem clear or consistent.

Planning inspectors are obliged to explain adequately their decisions and at least to be consistent. When they fail to meet these obligations, their decisions can be challenged with a good prospect of success, as is shown by a legal action brought by a homeowner who has scored an important win in his fight to build a roof extension to his home.

The man lives on the top floor of a terraced house in a conservation area and wants to erect a mansard roof extension. However, in refusing consent for the project, the local authority said that his proposals would be visually harmful to the terrace and would detract from the area's character and appearance. The council's decision was subsequently upheld by a government inspector.

However, the inspector's ruling was in apparent conflict with a decision made by another inspector less than three years earlier. In that case, the inspector had said that a similar extension to another property in the same terrace would be almost invisible to the public and would not harm the terrace's distinctive roofline.

In allowing the man's appeal, the High Court noted that consistency in decision-making was a well-established principle of planning law. In this case, the inspector had failed to give adequate or intelligible reasons for differing from the earlier decision. The Court directed the planning inspectorate to reconsider the man's case in the light of its decision.

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