A recent case in Kent has highlighted the importance of schools engaging with planning application consultations, especially if the school is attended by pupils with special educational needs (SEN).
The High Court quashed planning permission for a 38-unit residential development located next to a school for children with SEN in the case of G, R (On the Application Of) v Thanet District Council  EWHC 2026 (Admin).
The case dealt with several general planning and public law principles, including exercise of delegated authority, habitats regulation requirements and apparent bias. However, importantly for schools, the claim also succeeded on more practical grounds, including the failure to adequately assess the construction and operational impact of noise, highway safety and air quality on the pupils at the school.
For both air quality and highway safety, the council had a policy requiring an assessment but did not request one in this case. Their approach was to require consultation with the school as part of the discharge of conditions (post-grant of planning permission) but this was not considered sufficient as, by that stage, the development had effectively been allowed to proceed.
The key point made repeatedly by the judge was that those affected by the scheme (i.e. the pupils with special educational needs) were particularly sensitive and vulnerable, raising concerns for the adequacy of the overall assessment of the scheme’s environmental impacts.
The decision makes it clear that, in respect of developments located close to existing schools, Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) must consider the heightened sensitivity of any pupils at the school and should give due regard to representations received during the application consultation process. This is especially important where the LPA has a vested interest in the grant of planning permission as was the case here.
Impact on schools
If a school is likely to be negatively affected by an application for development near or next to the school site, it should consider a robust objection so that the impact on pupils can be adequately assessed before a decision is made.
If a planning decision is made without due regard to the needs of pupils at both construction and operational stages of the development, this case suggests that there are circumstances where it may be appropriate to challenge the grant of planning permission. However, each decision will turn on its facts, the sensitivities of the children, and the policies of the LPA.