Court of Appeal rules members followed NPPF retail policy against officer advice

The granting by councillors of consent for an out-of-town centre retail scheme in Leeds despite officers warning of its likely adverse impacts has been backed by the Court of Appeal, after a judge ruled that the wording of the relevant national policy does not require decision-makers to automatically refuse such schemes.

Leeds City Council granted planning permission for a large mixed-use, retail-led development on a six-hectare site 70 metres form the town centre in Middleton, a town south of the city. The council overruled a recommendation for refusal from the chief planning officer because the proposal would have a significant adverse impact on the town centre's vitality and viability. Paragraph 90 of the NPPF states that planning applications for out-of-town centre retail or leisure developments ‘should be refused’ if they are likely to have a significant adverse impact on an existing town centre.  However, in granting consent, members determined that harm to the town centre would be outweighed by the development's economic and regenerative benefits, including job creation and an improvement in the area's retail offer.

The Court ruled that the words 'should be refused' do not mean 'must be refused'. The policy does not dictate a refusal of planning permission whenever the development proposed is likely to have a 'significant adverse impact' on the 'vitality and viability' of a town centre." Councillors had not ignored paragraph 90, nor had they disregarded the chief planning officer's clear advice that planning permission should be refused.  There was no legal error -  the decision was one of balance.