Councillor conflict of interest bias rejected in NHS Trust planning permission

01 Sep 2023

A councillor who had declared an interest as a governor of an NHS Trust had not acted outside the code of conduct when expressing support for a new endoscopy unit at a local hospital.

The trust submitted a planning application and claimed that although it had been achieving its target for endoscopy tests this had been achieved by using external providers. This required patients to travel further for treatment. The trust also claimed that there was a need to have endoscopy services located within an acute setting, because procedures could require immediate surgical intervention. The chosen hospital was the only suitable, available and deliverable location for the endoscopy unit in the relevant catchment area, it argued.

In supporting a planning officer’s recommendation that permission should be granted the councillor who also sat as a governor of the trust, confirmed this position before the planning committee determined the application and approved it by eight votes to seven.

Mr Justice Lane in considering a judicial review by an objector to the scheme, concluded that the councillor had complied with the local authority’s code of conduct by declaring his interest as a governor of the trust at the outset of the planning committee meeting. A hypothetical observer would take the councillor’s compliance with the code into account as a factor weighing against the conclusion of a real possibility of bias.

Moreover, as a governor, he was removed from the executives of the trust, who were its primary decision-makers in decisions such as whether to seek approval for the endoscopy unit. Consequently as a governor he did not represent the trust and did not have a vested interest in it receiving planning permission. The judicial review therefore failed.

The King on the Application of Philip Webb v London Borough of Bromley and King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

Date: 31 July 2023

Ref: [2023] EWHC 2091 (Admin)