High Court Judgement: The Significance of the Timeframe in Prior Approval Applications

14 November 2019

A recent High Court judgement highlights the significance of the timeframe in prior approval applications.

A court case has determined that LPAs do not have the power to extend the time period for determining prior approval applications where the General Permitted Development Order (GPDO) specifies a deadline for such a determination. The findings from the case concluded that if the prescribed deadline is missed, prior approval is deemed to have been given and planning permission granted.

This case related to a developer’s request for prior approval from Wokingham Borough Council to convert a barn to a dwelling under class Q of the GPDO. The application was received by the LPA on 15/11/2018, and the 56 day period expired on 10/01/2019. On 08/01/2019, the applicant and the LPA agreed an extension of the time period to 31/01/2019. On 30th January the Council refused the application and the developer challenged the decision. The judement related to the interpretation of article 7 of the GPDO.

For reference, article 7 of the GPDO, which is titled “Prior approval applications: time periods for decision”, states the following

“7. Where, in relation to development permitted by any Class in Schedule 2 which is expressed to be subject to prior approval, an application has been made to a local planning authority for such approval or a determination as to whether such approval is required, the decision in relation to the application must be made by the authority—
(a) within the period specified in the relevant provision of Schedule 2,

(b) where no period is specified, within a period of 8 weeks beginning with the day immediately following that on which the application is received by the authority, or
(c) within such longer period as may be agreed by the applicant and the authority in writing.

The High Court held that article 7 (c) is only to be read as an alternative to article 7 (b) and not to article 7 (a). In other words, the determination period can only be extended in situations when the GPDO doesn’t specify a timeframe. As the council’s decision was made after the 56 day period had expired, its decision to refuse prior approval was unlawful and was therefore quashed. The developer was therefore deemed to have been granted planning permission on 10th January when the 56 day-period had expired.

Clearly this is one to watch; developers should avoid accepting a refusal after the deadline has expired.

R (Warren Farm (Wokingham) Ltd) v Wokingham Borough Council; Date: 31 July 2019; Ref: [2019] EWHC 2007 (Admin)