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Renewable energy business fails in challenge over impact of lobbying by MP

A renewable energy company has lost a High Court challenge in which it claimed that a decision to refuse planning permission for a wind turbine development was vitiated by bias because of lobbying by the local MP.

In Broadview Energy Developments Ltd v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government & Ors [2015] EWHC 1743 (Admin) the MP, Andrea Leadsom, was involved in a successful campaign against the proposed five-turbine wind farm, which was to be located in her constituency.

A planning inspector had recommended the grant of planning permission for the scheme at Spring Farm Ridge, Helmsdon, South Northamptonshire.

However, the then Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government called in the matter and on 22 December 2014 refused permission.

Broadview Energy sought to quash the Secretary of State's dismissal of its appeal and the refusal of its application for planning permission through an application under section 288 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

The claimant contended the decision was unlawful because:

  • The Secretary of State failed to provide the claimant with copies of correspondence concerning the appeal between the MP, himself and the Minister in the Department for Communities and Local Government who made the decision;
  • The Secretary of State failed to provide it with an opportunity to comment on that correspondence; and
  • The MP lobbied the Minister face to face in the House of Commons.

Broadview Energy therefore argued that the decision was taken in breach of natural justice, in circumstances which gave rise to actual or apparent bias on the part of the Secretary of State and in breach of his own guidance.

But Mr Justice Cranston rejected the claim in the High Court.

On the lobbying issue, the judge said: “Ministers are lobbied by MPs about constituency issues. That takes place through correspondence and other avenues. Because Ministers are Parliamentarians, MPs use the opportunity to lobby them in person through informal encounters on the Parliamentary estate.

“This is part of our Parliamentary democracy and generally there can be no lawful objection to it. Planning is an area where Ministers are sometimes the primary decision-maker. There is nothing unlawful in their being lobbied by an MP on a constituency planning matter so long as Ministers act fairly and consistently with the standards of propriety set by the Planning Inquiries Rules, the Ministerial Code and the planning propriety guidance.”

Mr Justice Cranston concluded that the claimant had failed to establish that the ministerial decision against planning permission for its proposed wind farm was unlawful, through unfairness, bias or material breach of planning propriety standards.

He therefore dismissed Broadview Energy’s application to quash the Secretary of State's decision.