Hundreds of wedding receptions in jeopardy!

Posted: 9th April 2018

WeddingOfficials sometimes make mistakes and it is one of the primary functions of the law to put them right. In one case on point, the High Court quashed planning permission for three marquees in the grounds of a country estate – notwithstanding that the decision would place hundreds of wedding receptions in jeopardy.

The local planning authority had granted consent for the marquees to the owner of the estate after receiving positive advice from one of its officers. The officer had recommended that various conditions be attached to the permission, including a five-year time limit on the marquees remaining in place. The minutes of the relevant planning committee meeting showed conclusively that its members had intended to attach that condition to the consent.

However, when the formal planning permission was issued, neither the time limit nor any other condition was attached to it. The council did not discover the error until almost six years later. In the circumstances, a company that ran a nearby hotel, where a rival weddings business was operated, launched a judicial review challenge to the permission.

In defending the consent, the owner pointed out that it had accepted over 180 wedding bookings in respect of the marquees, up to and including 2020, and that more than 50,000 people would be affected if the permission were quashed. It was submitted that such a consequence would be contrary to good administration.

In upholding the company’s arguments, however, the Court noted that the council had confessed its error and had not sought to defend the permission. A clear error had been made and the integrity of the planning process demanded that it should be corrected. Had the five-year condition been attached as it should have been, the permission would already have expired and the effect of leaving it in place would be to sanction the presence of the marquees forever.

The Court found that it was safe to infer that the owner became aware of the error soon after it was made, but had chosen to remain silent and not draw it to the council’s attention. The owner knew that the marquees’ continued presence might be legally precarious and its decision to continue to accept bookings regardless was taken at its own peril. The Court expressed sympathy for couples whose wedding plans might be disrupted by its ruling.