Case No: C1/2012/1594
Neutral Citation Number:  EWCA Civ 86
IN THE COURT OF APPEAL (CIVIL DIVISION)
ON APPEAL FROM QUEEN'S BENCH DIVISION
(HIS HONOUR JUDGE JEREMY RICHARDSON QC)
Royal Courts of Justice
Strand, London, WC2A 2LL
Date: Wednesday, 23 January 2013
LORD JUSTICE RICHARDS
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
THE QUEEN ON THE APPLICATION OF
- and -
REDCAR & CLEVELAND BOROUGH COUNCIL
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
(DAR Transcript of
WordWave International Limited
A Merrill Communications Company
165 Fleet Street, London EC4A 2DY
Tel No: 020 7404 1400 Fax No: 020 7831 8838
Official Shorthand Writers to the Court)
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Mr Richard Gordon QC (instructed by Richard Buxton Environmental and Public Law) appeared on behalf of the Appellant.
The Respondents did not appear and were not represented.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
(As approved by the Court )
Lord Justice Richards:
1. This is a renewed application for permission to appeal against an order of HHJ Jeremy Richardson QC, sitting as a Deputy High Court Judge in the Administrative Court at Leeds, by which he refused the applicant permission to apply for judicial review.
2. The subject of the challenge is a certificate under section 192 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 of lawfulness of the proposed use or development of a site in the village of Boosbeck as an abattoir. The applicant is a local resident and member of an action group resisting the proposed use; the respondent council is the local planning authority for the area.
3. The judge records in his judgment that the site in question has been used as an abattoir since the 19th century. There is evidence to suggest that the building was there prior to the settlement of the village itself, and it is certain that the building was used as an abattoir for many years.
4. Although there had been an abattoir on the site for many years, an application was made and granted in 1990 for outline planning permission for extensions and alterations to the abattoir. As the judge records, it appears that detailed consent was subsequently granted, but nothing turns on the terms of subsequent planning decisions.
5. The owners of the abattoir continued in business until 2007, when they became insolvent and the abattoir closed down. It has stood empty ever since, but in September 2011 an application was made under section 192 for the certificate that is the subject of the present challenge.
6. Section 192 provides in subsection (2) that if, on application under the section, the local planning authority are provided with information satisfying them that the use or operation described in the application would be lawful if instituted or begun at the time of the application, they shall issue a certificate to that effect, and in any other case they shall refuse the application.
7. In October 2011 the certificate applied for was granted, for reasons stated as follows:
"Based on the information provided the local planning authority is satisfied that the reuse of the site and associated buildings, the subject of this application and proposed to be used for abattoir services would not result in a material change of use as defined by section 55 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (as amended) for which further planning permission would be required. In arriving at this determination the local planning authority has had regard to the fact that the site, the subject of the application, is vacant and has been so since 21st July 2007, but it is noted there is no evidence of the use being supplanted by another use or the use being abandoned."
It is for those reasons that the council certified that the proposed use of the abattoir on the site was lawful.
8. The challenge to the certificate is based on the contention that there was a failure at the time of the 1990 application for outline planning permission to comply with the EIA screening requirements of the predecessor of what are now the Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2011.
9. There is an issue of fact as to whether the requisite EIA screening was undertaken at the time. The judge described the position on that as completely unclear. There is no record of an EIA being considered, but the council's development manager, giving evidence as to the procedures he believes to have been in place at the time, asserts that it would be quite unsafe for the court to conclude that environmental screening did not take place. He says that it was quite common for it to be done back then but not recorded. There is, on the other hand, an email from a more junior official stating that no screening was undertaken in this case. The judge approached the matter by assuming for the purposes of his decision that there was a breach of the EIA Regulations in 1990. If this matter were to proceed, it would clearly be necessary to make a finding as to the correct factual position.
10. The applicant's case before the judge, presented at that time by his solicitor, Mr Richard Buxton, was that if the 1990 planning permission was granted in breach of the EIA Regulations it was too late to set aside the 1990 consent but the council should not have issued a section 192 certificate in 2011, because under EU law public authorities must ensure that the obligations arising under the Regulations are put into effect. Reliance was placed on the judgment of the ECJ in case C-201/02, R (Wells) v Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions; and the judgment of the Court of Appeal in R (Noble Organisation Ltd) v Thanet DC  EWCA Civ 782 was sought to be distinguished. The judge set out various passages from those two cases at paragraphs 31 to 34 of his judgment. I shall have to say a little more about the cases in a moment, but I do not intend to go into great detail since this is only a permission application.
11. The judge held that he was bound by Noble, as of course he was. Whether it was determinative of the issue before him is a different matter. From Wells and Noble he derived a number of propositions, namely (i) there is an obligation on Member States to ensure that Regulations made under an EU directive are followed; (ii) national courts must ensure legal protection for citizens derived from EU law; (iii) it is for the domestic courts of each Member State to determine the procedure governing the protection and enforcement of the rights enshrined in EU law; and (iv) judicial review and other appellate process under planning legislation provide an adequate remedy for challenging in a timely way the validity of public actions. Again, I do not think that any objection is or could be taken to the substance of those propositions as such. It is their relevance and/or application that is in issue.
12. The judge held that in considering the section 192 application the council was required to satisfy itself whether the operation of an abattoir on the site would be lawful (and if it was, the section required the council to issue a certificate to that effect). In considering lawfulness it was entitled to view all relevant material, including the history of the site and planning consents, and there was a valid planning consent in the form of the 1990 permission, the validity of which could not now be challenged. The judge described it as simply too far-fetched to suggest that the council should have declined to issue the certificate because of an alleged breach of EU law 22 years previously. In the judge's view the point was unarguable.
13. In refusing permission to appeal on the papers, Etherton LJ observed that an appeal has no real prospect of success; the judge's analysis was plainly correct; it is not appropriate to make a reference to the Court it Justice; and the point is acte clair.
14. There are several sets of helpful written submissions put forward in this case on the applicant's behalf, all of which I have read. In particular, in a skeleton argument developing the applicant's submissions in response to Etherton LJ's decision on the papers, Mr Gordon QC, who now appears on the applicant's behalf, takes issue with the Lord Justice's reasoning and conclusion. In summary, in that skeleton argument Mr Gordon takes three points: (1) Noble is distinguishable from Wells: in particular, Noble involved a necessary challenge to the legality of an earlier development consent, whereas Wells did not; what mattered in Wells was whether it was procedurally possible at a later stage to remedy the effects of development consent having been granted without an EIA. (2) The present case is subject to the principles in Wells and is not affected by Noble. (3) The application of the principles in Wells, even to a case such as Noble and in any event to this case, is less than clear and the question of a reference to the Court of Justice needs to be addressed at some stage (albeit, it is suggested, after the grant of permission rather than on this permission application).
15. In response to observations I made in the course of argument today, Mr Gordon put forward two broad submissions. First, that a certificate of the kind issued in this case is, in substance, itself a development consent. It is a legitimisation of the preceding state of affairs, bringing clarity and certainty, and it is a consent which under the EU Directive requires the relevant assessment of environmental effects to be made before the consent is granted. Secondly, even if the certificate is not a development consent, there is a continuing duty on the State to make good the original breach of the EIA Regulations. There is a general obligation under EU law on organs of the State to do all in their power to secure fulfilment of the obligation, and it is submitted that the challenge sought to be advanced before this court is a means by which such fulfilment could be achieved. Those points are said to be arguable points of EU law, whether individually or in combination. Mr Gordon rightly stresses caution about concluding that points of EU of this nature are clear. He submits that the case is one that should go forward.
16. I have given careful consideration to those submissions but I cannot accept that they establish the existence of an arguable case. The question for determination by the council was whether the use of the site as an abattoir would be lawful. I cannot see how the council could, in the circumstances, have given that question anything other than an affirmative answer; and, having answered it in the affirmative, the council was bound by the statute to grant the relevant certificate. The site had an established use as an abattoir going back to the 19th century. It had the benefit of an extant and valid planning permission granted in 1990: as I have said, the validity of that permission is not and cannot be disputed, even on the assumption that there was a failure to comply with the EIA screening requirement in granting the 1990 consent.
17. The relevant part of the decision in Wells (in particular paragraphs 62 and following) concerned the scope of the obligation to remedy the failure to carry out an EIA at the time when previous consents were granted. The court said that Member States are required to nullify the unlawful consequences of a breach of EU law; thus it is for the competent authorities to take within the sphere of their competence all the general or particular measures necessary to ensure that projects are examined in order to determine whether they are likely to have significant effects on the environment and, if so, to ensure that they are subject to an environmental impact assessment. Such particular measures include, subject to the limits laid down by the principle of procedural autonomy of the Member States, the revocation or suspension of a consent already granted, in order to carry out an assessment of environmental effects. As the court said, it was for the national court to determine whether it was possible under domestic law for a consent already granted to be revoked or suspended for that purpose or, alternatively, for compensation to be claimed for the harm suffered.
18. The principle laid down in Wells is a strong one but its application must depend on the nature of the decision or power under national law which is in issue. The present case is not concerned with the exercise of powers to revoke or suspend planning permission, to the extent that such powers exist under national law. It is concerned only with the question of lawful use. Even leaving aside the long history of lawful use of the site, use in accordance with a valid planning permission and with no intervening change of use or abandonment was plainly lawful use. As regards the lawfulness of use of the site as an abattoir, the position concerning the proposed use is no different in principle from the position which prevailed throughout the period from the time of grant of the planning permission in 1990 to the closure of the then existing abattoir in 2007. The use during that period was again plainly lawful.
19. I cannot see what scope there was for the council either to find that the use would not be lawful or, having found that it would be lawful, to decline to grant the certificate. It was not open to the council under section 192 to nullify the consequences of the previous assumed breach of the EIA Regulations by treating a valid planning permission as invalid or by treating use permitted by that planning permission as if it were unlawful use. The function of the council under section 192 could not involve assessment of the environmental effects of use of the site as an abattoir or the merits of the extant planning permission. The council could not withdraw that planning permission in the exercise of section 192 powers. All it could do was to reflect the consequences of the existence of the planning permission. Moreover, the certificate was effectively declaratory and strictly unnecessary for the developer otherwise than as a form of comfort, since the developer could in practice lawfully proceed with use even without the certificate, there being no basis for contending that that use was unlawful.
20. Mr Gordon referred briefly to paragraph 24 of the decision in R (Barker) v London Borough of Bromley  UKHL 52, but in my judgment that passage does not take matters further.
21. I accept that Noble is distinguishable from Wells; and, whilst some of the points made in it are relevant, they do not seem to me to be at the heart of this case and I think it unnecessary to cite them for present purposes.
22. Some reliance is placed in the written material on the Advocate-General's opinion in case C-98/04 Commission v United Kingdom, infraction proceedings that foundered on procedural grounds in the judgment of the court. That case concerned lawful development certificates under section 191 of the 1990 Act, in circumstances where operations had been carried out without consent, but the time limit for enforcement had expired. The Advocate-General was undoubtedly concerned that the UK system allowed actions to be taken without an EIA, in breach of the Directive, but to be legitimised by the passage of time so that the situation could not be remedied. But it was the way in which the problem arose that lay at the root of his concern. As he said in his conclusion at paragraph 34, national legislation which allows the administration to take no action and allow a project awaiting consent and assessment of its effects on the environment to be implemented without that assessment being made infringes the Directive. But the problem lay with the particular effect of the national legislation in the circumstances described. None of that establishes, to my mind, that it was arguably unlawful for the council in this case to grant a certificate under section 192 on the basis of use that was inter alia in accordance with a valid planning permission.
23. I hope I have made sufficiently clear, albeit necessarily in summary form, why I reject Mr Gordon's submissions. I do not suggest that EU law in this general area is in all respects acte clair; there are arguments still to be made, for example, about the precise effect of Wells. But I do agree with the judge below and with Etherton LJ that the position is clear as regards the particular issue that the applicant seeks to raise in these proceedings.
24. For the reasons given, I share Etherton LJ's view that an appeal would have no real prospect of success. The need for a reference to the Court of Justice does not arise. For those reasons, the application is dismissed.
Order: Application dismissed