Choose your words carefully

17 Oct 2023

The ability to both convey and scrutinise meaning in written words is an essential skill for all working in the quasi-judicial world of planning. From formulating the wording of development plan policies, to framing reasons for refusal or enforcement notice allegations, planning professionals must always have one eye on how an intended meaning may be interpreted differently by a third party. Who wants a coach and horses driven through a restrictive policy, or an enforcement notice quashed?

Even when we think we’ve got it right, this doesn’t always prove to be the case when subjected to high-level scrutiny, whether in a development plan examination, planning appeal or the law courts. Feel then for the discomfort of council enforcement officers when a planning inspector pointed out the ambiguity inherent in the wording of an alleged breach of planning control stating ‘the material change of use of the land for stationing of caravan for storage purposes’.

To the inspector’s mind, this allegation could be read in one of two ways. Either that the material change of use constituted the caravan being stored on the land (a use for storage that would normally fall within the B8 Use Class) or, that the material change of use constituted the caravan, which accommodates stored goods, being stationed on the land.

Although the council had intended the former, the inspector held the failure of the notice to tell the recipient with reasonable certainty what the breach of planning control was, meant that it did not meet the requirements of sections 173(2) in accordance with settled case law. Since injustice would be caused if the error were corrected, the inspector held the enforcement notice was invalid and should be quashed (400-042-168).

It’s always so obvious when its pointed out!

Circumstances in which the description of a breach alleged in an enforcement notice can be found inadequate or incorrect is explored further in 4.5331.