Incorrect Ownership Certificates: A Cautionary Tale

19 January 2018

In a case which the judge deemed to be "a cautionary tale about how not to submit a planning application and its consequences", the High Court has recently tackled the question of the effect of incorrect ownership certificates submitted with planning applications. In considering the issue, the Court has given us a helpful reminder of when such an error might lead to the quashing of a planning permission.

Whilst its background is not entirely straightforward, this case concerned a planning application for the construction of a flat above an existing six-storey apartment block. At least one of the application plans (rightly or wrongly) included part of one of the existing flats, which was leased on a 999 year lease. The application was made in the name of the freehold owner's agent and stated that the applicant was the only owner of the application site. As such, no notification of the application was given to the affected leaseholder, either by the applicant or the planning authority. The leaseholder did not spot the site notice and did not become aware of the application until after the consent had been granted. He subsequently challenged the grant of consent based (in part) on the error in the ownership certificate, which he said denied him a chance to make representations on the application.

The Court noted the rather draconian wording in sections 65(5) and 327(A) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, which state that local planning authorities "must not entertain" applications where statutory requirements to (amongst other things) notify owners of planning applications and certify that they have done so have not been met. It was agreed however, that the Court still has discretion on whether to quash a decision where such an application has been determined.

There is already some case law on this subject, which suggests that in certain cases it may not be appropriate to quash a decision notwithstanding an error on an ownership certificate, Examples given in those cases include situations where a consent has been implemented and expenditure incurred in reliance on it, or where quashing the decision would be prejudicial to the local community.

In this case, however, none of the arguments put forward were found to have merit. In particular, the Court held that it was 'far from satisfied' that the Claimant could not have influenced the outcome of the planning application had he known about it and had an opportunity to make representations. Further, the signing of the ownership was reckless (at best) and clearly contained a false and misleading statement. Charles George QC sitting as Deputy High Court Judge quoted an earlier judgment of Newman J and stated that this recklessness disclosed "a cavalier disregard for the mandatory requirements in connection with a statutory certificate". As a result, the planning permission was quashed in order that a new application containing an accurate description of the owner and the site could be determined on its merits.

This decision should be a warning to all involved in the application process to make sure that title issues are considered early, plans drawn accurately and ownership certificates completed correctly. This is an area where objectors can easily attack, and where even a basic error could have significant ramifications, particularly where a court considers that due care has not been taken. If, as applicant, you become aware of an issue during the application process, there are steps you can take to minimise the risk of your permission being quashed, but prevention must always be better than cure.


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