Crown Immunity from Planning Enforcement Action – Court of Appeal Ruling


Planning enforcement action cannot be taken against the Crown, one of the nation’s biggest landowners, without the consent of…the Crown. The Court of Appeal made that point in refusing to block use of an RAF airfield to help accommodate asylum seekers making their way across the Channel in small boats.

A local authority sought an injunction against the Home Office under Section 187B of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 with a view to preventing the airfield’s use as accommodation for up to 1,700 asylum seekers. It asserted that the proposal would amount to an unauthorised change of use, in breach of planning control. Following a hearing, however, a judge found that he had no jurisdiction to consider the matter and struck out the council’s claim.

In dismissing the council’s challenge to that outcome, the Court noted that Section 296 of the Act states in terms that a local planning authority ‘must not take any step for the purposes of enforcement in relation to Crown land unless it has the consent of the appropriate authority’ – in this case the airfield’s owner, the Ministry of Defence. The application for an injunction was undoubtedly a step taken for the purposes of enforcement and was thus caught by that prohibition.

The council had criticised the government’s invocation of Class Q of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015 as a way of getting round the need for planning permission. Class Q permits development of Crown land in order to prevent, reduce, control or mitigate the effects of an emergency. Given its decisive ruling on the jurisdictional point, however, the Court declined to express a conclusion on that issue.

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