High Court Upholds Secretary of State Decision in Noise Impact Case: Key Legal Principles and Judicial Review Insights

Citation: [2016] EWHC 1772 (Admin)
Judgment on


The case “Stoke Poges Parish Council & Anor v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government & Ors” is a judicial review of a decision made by the Secretary of State concerning the change of use from offices to a state-funded school. The core contention relates to the predicted noise levels and their impacts on local residents. The High Court of Justice Queen’s Bench Division Planning Court ruled on this matter, identifying several legal principles within the context of planning law, which form the crux of this analysis.

Key Facts

The appeal hinged on the interpretation of noise impact guidance and whether the proposed school would have a significant adverse impact on health and quality of life as articulated in paragraph 123 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). The initial decision by the Secretary of State in favor of the school development was challenged on several grounds related to the handling of technical noise evidence and policy guidance.

Several principles of administrative law were applied in this review:

  1. Restrained Approach to Technical Judgment: It was stated that courts should approach disputes over technical evidence with reluctance, as these are matters of judgment for the planning authority, not the judicial system (R. (Nicholson) v Allerdale BC [2015] EWHC 2510 (Admin) and British Aerospace Plc v Secretary of State (1998) 75 P & CR 486).

  2. Duty to Give Reasons: The duty is on the decision-maker to provide sufficiently clear reasons for their decision, enabling an informed readership to understand the outcome without excessive legalism (South Buckinghamshire DC v Porter (No.2) [2004] 1 WLR 1953).

  3. Consistency in Interpretation: The principle from Tesco Stores Ltd. v Dundee City Council [2012] P.T.S.R. 983 signals the need for consistency in the interpretation of planning policy and relevant guidance documents, albeit with flexibility for the context of specific cases.

  4. Authority to Depart from the Inspector’s Recommendations: The Secretary of State has discretion to depart from an inspector’s views provided they present detailed and logical reasons for the disagreement (Ecotricity (Next Generation) Ltd v Secretary of State [2015] EWCA Civ 657).

  5. Material Considerations: The decision-maker must regard material considerations, including technical advice and guidance, as evidenced by appropriate policy application (Bloor Homes East Midlands Ltd v Secretary of State [2014] EWHC 754 (Admin)).

  6. Rationality: The decision should not be irrational based upon the evidence brought forward. A decision demonstrating sufficient evidence and reasoned judgment is deemed rational even if contentious.


Permission was granted as the main grounds, 1 and 2 were deemed arguable. Grounds 3 and 4, being closely related, were also granted permission. However, substantively all grounds were refused, and hence the decision made by the Secretary of State was upheld. This conclusion was based on:

  • The Secretary of State’s entitlement to disagree with the inspector’s recommendations based on an evaluation of technical evidence and policy.
  • Adequate consideration of the WHO noise guidelines and BS 8233 by the Secretary of State.
  • The Secretary of State’s discretion in treating threshold noise values as guidelines and not binding standards.
  • The Secretary of State’s reasoned analysis on the character and impact of noise on residential amenity using the guidance from NPPF and PPG.


The case emphasizes the broad discretion afforded to decision-makers in planning matters, particularly when evaluating technical evidence against policy guidelines. The court reaffirms the principle that it will not substitute its own judgment on technical matters that are within the purview of planning authorities. The detailed reasons provided by the Secretary of State reflected careful consideration of the relevant guidance and justified the deviation from the Inspector’s recommendations, satisfying the duty to give reasons and demonstrating rationality in decision-making. The outcome reiterates that planning decisions, even when contentious, will be upheld if they are within the bounds of reasonableness and backed by cogent reasoning.