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Legal Time Limits are Flexible and Can Be Extended – Not So!

There is a tendency to believe that legal time limits are flexible and can be extended – but that is by no means always the case. The point was made by one case in which a property company’s hopes of building homes on its land were effectively scotched due to its delay in launching proceedings.

Moorland2The company owned a plot of land, on the outskirts of a market town, which it wished to see allocated for housing development. In the course of formulating a neighbourhood development plan (NDP), an independent examiner had recommended that the plot be included within the town’s boundary. Had that recommendation been followed, it would have greatly boosted the plot’s development potential and value.

The local authority, however, took a different view to the examiner and the plot was recorded as an out-of-town site in the NDP, which was adopted following a local referendum. The company launched a judicial review challenge to the council’s decision and a judge found that it had arguable grounds for complaint.

In dismissing the company’s case, however, the High Court noted that it had lodged proceedings considerably more than six weeks after the council’s decision. The six-week time limit enshrined in the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 was mandatory and the Court found that there was no power to extend it.

The Court noted that the strict time limit promoted certainty and the avoidance of disruption in localised and democratic decision making. The council was entitled to expect that, after the six-week period expired, its decision would no longer be susceptible to challenge. If the company were permitted to proceed with its claim, it would cast a cloud over the entire NDP process, including the referendum result.

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