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Adverse consequences for local authorities who fail to comply with the public sector equality duty

A recent case has come before the High Court, (R (on the application of Buckley (on behalf of Foxhill Resident's Association)) v Bath and North East Somerset Council) which involved planning permission being quashed after the local authority failed to comply with their public sector equality duty.

The Facts

A social housing provider owned the majority of houses on the development site. Outline Planning Permission was granted which would see 452 homes demolished and 700 new homes built, resulting in a loss of 204 affordable homes. Supporting documents provided that priority for the new homes would be given to the existing tenants. However, prior to the decision an agreement was made between the defendant and the social housing provider which refused priority for tenants occupying one bedroom houses and those on assured shorthold tenancies.

The issues

Did the local authority comply with the public sector equality duty imposed by section 149 of the Equality Act 2010? To answer this question, the Court had to decide whether the local authority could demonstrate that it had had due regard to the impact of the proposed development on the elderly or disabled occupiers of units.

The decision

The Court's ruling was decided upon whether the local authority had addressed or had regard to the impact on groups with protected characteristics, in particular the elderly and the disabled, of the loss of their existing home. The Court held that the local authority did not discharge their duty and as a consequence breached their statutory duty and the Outline Planning Permission was quashed. As a consequence of this decision, full considerations must be carried out and clearly demonstrated to the decision maker.

Comment

The decision highlights that local authorities must comply with their public sector equality duty when exercising its planning function. It does raise some concerns for the future of outline planning permissions as the impact on residents needs to be addressed from the outset. This could prove difficult given the lack of information about the identity and characteristics of residents affected. It is an interesting decision and provides guidance to local authorities in similar circumstances.

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