Interpretation of Policy

January 24th, 2022 by James Goudie KC

In Wiltshire Council v SoS (2022) EWHC 36 ( Admin ) the Court reiterates the legal principles to be applied by a Court when a decision of a Planning Inspector or other specialist decision-maker is challenged on the basis of alleged misinterpretation of policy.

The essential distinction is that (1) the interpretation of policy is a question of law, for the Court, BUT (2) the weight to be attached to the policy is a matter for the primary decision-maker.

The interpretation of policies has to recognise that they contain broad statements of policy. They are designed to shape practical decision-making. There may be statements that are mutually irreconcilable. In a particular case, one must give way to another.

Policies must be read in context. Context includes (1) their subject matter, (2) the objectives sought to be achieved, and (3) the wider policy framework and the overarching strategy.

Courts should respect expertise and start from the presumption that Planning Inspectors will have correctly understood the policy framework.

The Court construed NPPF paragraph 71 on housing development sites for first time buyers or renters.

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