Masthead Local Govt - Planning

High Court judge quashes planning permission for crematorium

The High Court has quashed planning permission given by Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council for a crematorium, ruling that the local authority did not properly consider capacity at a nearby facility.

Sir Wyn Williams, sitting as a High Court judge, said the spare capacity at Crematoria Management’s site at nearly Broxbourne should have been considered and that failing to do so was a material error, and one where he was unable to say the decision would have been the same had it not occurred.

The dispute concerned Welwyn Hatfield’s decision to build a new chapel, machinery store and crematory at its cemetery to meet local need.

Giving judgment in Crematoria Management Ltd, R (On the Application Of) v Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council [2018] EWHC 382, Sir Wyn dismissed a challenge on whether an environmental impact assessment had been needed but upheld one about Welwyn Hatfield’s ability to demonstrate that there was a need for the development given the cemetery’s Green Belt location.

Crematoria Management submitted that Welwyn Hatfield did not establish need because its assessment did not take account of the capacity of the Broxbourne site.

The judge said a council report noted: “The partially constructed crematorium in Broxbourne has also been factored into the analysis”, but “it became clear during the hearing that the need assessment had not, in fact, ‘factored’ the capacity of the Broxbourne site into the analysis of need”.

Broxbourne could handle 1,200 cremations a year, Crematoria Management said, and while the crematorium was referred to in Welwyn Hatfield’s officer’s report, the pleaded case said the relevant officer’s report: “makes no reference to its quantitative capacity, its qualitative features or the ability of that new facility to meet the need for a crematorium in the council's district either now or at any relevant point in time in the future. This is a material omission.

“In consequence, the council members were neither fully informed or were, in consequence misled as to the need for a crematorium of the type proposed and/or at this time”

The judge said the council “acknowledges that the reference to the Broxbourne site being close to its maximum capacity is erroneous”.

He went on: “On any fair reading…members of the planning committee are being told that all relevant existing crematorium facilities are either close to their maximum capacity or near full capacity.

“In my judgment, the effect is that members were being advised that a factor to be taken into account and which supported the grant of planning permission was that existing facilities were inadequate, in terms of capacity, to meet the need for crematoria in the area…. I am satisfied that the effect of [the] paragraph was to significantly mislead the planning committee about a material consideration. There is no suggestion that the error made in the report was corrected at the meeting at which the planning application was decided.”

Mark Smulian

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