Ball – v – Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and Brentwood Borough Council  EWHC 3590 (Admin), 13th December 2012
This was an application under the Town and Country Planning ACT (T&CPA) 1990 s288 against the refusal by Brentwood Borough Council (BBC) of an application for a 6 plot Gypsy site in the Green Belt.
One of the Grounds of Appeal was that there was apparent bias. The Planning Inspector’s decision was called in by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (SSCLG). The SSCLG, Mr Pickles, is the MP for Brentwood and he had made a submission to the Planning Inspector opposing the application. However, Mr Pickles took no part in the consideration of the recovered appeal which matter was referred to another Minister in the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), Bob Neill MP. Initially DCLG refused to disclose the advice given to Mr Neill but, after a challenge, this was disclosed. Stuart-Smith J concluded that it should have been disclosed. He went on to say:-
Given that Mr Pickles took no part in the decision making process and did not influence it otherwise than in his capacity as a constituency MP in accordance with the Ministerial Code, the Claimant has to establish either that Mr Neill was sub-consciously and improperly influenced by the views of his superior minister or that he approached the present case with a closed mind (Para 63).
Stuart-Smith J concluded (at para 71):-
One of the issues in these proceedings was whether Mr Neill had acted in a manner that demonstrated bias or gave rise to a reasonable perception of bias. Documents showing the development of the decision making process, including the advice given by advisers to the minister, could be relevant to that issue by showing, for example, that the advisers had been incorrectly influenced by the view of Mr Pickles, or that the minister had followed advice from advisers that could be seen to be unimpeachable, or that the minister had departed from the advice he had received in a way which called for an explanation to dispel any suggestion of bias.
The application was dismissed. Mr Ball has appealed this case to the Court of Appeal.
A copy of the judgment is attached to this article.