Interpreting permission

December 12th, 2016 by James Goudie KC

R (Skelmersdale Limited Partnership) v West Lancashire Borough Council (2016) EWCA Civ 1260 concerned a claim for Judicial Review of a planning permission granted by the Council for a new retail-led development on a strategic development site of about 5 hectares in the Skelmersdale Town Centre. The challenge was with respect to a condition of the permission, which related to occupation of the retail floorspace, and the meaning of the word “commits” in that condition. Sales LJ (with whom Briggs LJ agreed) said:-

“15.    Guidance as to the interpretation of the terms of a grant of planning permission is given in the judgment of Lord Hodge JSC in Trump International Golf Club Scotland Ltd v Scottish Ministers [2015] UKSC 74; [2016] 1 WLR 85, at paras. [33]-[34]. As Lord Hodge explains, there is only limited scope for the use of extrinsic material in the interpretation of a public document such as a planning permission ([33]), but reference to some extrinsic materials, such as the application for permission, may be legitimate ([34]).

  1. In fact, however, I consider that the judge was plainly correct in his interpretation of the word “commits” in condition 5(ii), without the need for reference to these extrinsic materials. Lord Hodge explains at [34] that the interpretation of a condition in a planning consent involves asking “what a reasonable reader would understand the words to mean when reading the condition in the context of the other conditions and of the consent as a whole”; “This is an objective exercise in which the court will have regard to the natural and ordinary meaning of the relevant words, the overall purpose of the consent, any other conditions which cast light on the purpose of the relevant words, and common sense.”

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