Nun's the word: Fraudulent Misrepresentation in Planning Applications
The Holy Cross Sisters Trustees (the “Trustees”), a group of Roman Catholic nuns, are facing a claim by the Parish Council of Chalfont St Peter (the “Parish Council”) alleging that they fraudulently profited up to £31m from a residential development.
In 2010, the Trustees were granted planning consent by Chiltern District Council allowing the former site of the Holy Cross Convent School to be the site of a residential development (the “Permission”). The Parish Council opposed this development and subsequently brought several applications and appeals against it, all of which were unsuccessful.
More recently, the Parish Council has been granted permission for an action alleging that the documentation submitted in support of the application for Permission constituted fraudulent misrepresentation of the historic use of the school’s playing fields. The Parish Council contends that, as a result of the Permission, the site could be sold to developers for over £31m.
The Parish Council’s allegations of fraudulent misrepresentation are based on the use of two areas of land identified, being area A and area B. According to reports, the Permission states that whilst area B was a playing field and was used as such, area A was only informally used as a playing field. The Parish Council contends that the actual use of area A as a playing field was of common knowledge amongst the Trustees and staff at the school and, as such, the fact that the Permission stated otherwise constitutes fraudulent representation.
The relevance of the actual use of areas A and B stems from the Local Authority’s policy on loss of sports facilities. The Parish Council alleges that the Permission was based on the incorrect assertion that area A was not in fact a playing field, and that had the correct use been specified then the planning application would have been refused.
Whilst it remains to be seen whether this legal challenge by the Parish Council will be successful, Master Davison of the Queen’s Bench Division has commented that he “cannot say that the parish council has “no real prospect” of succeeding on this issue”. It is also a well established legal principle that one should not be able to profit from their wrongdoing and the case of Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government v Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council (2011) is a useful reminder of this principle and how it can apply in relation to planning matters. Regardless of its merits, this case is another reminder to ensure that information which is submitted in relation to planning applications is factually accurate to mitigate the risk of a planning permission being challenged or its validity being called into question.
If you would like advice in relation to a planning matter, please get in touch with our Real Estate team on 0345 070 6000.