In March 2012 the London Borough of Barnet Council (“Barnet”) approved planning permission for a primary school. The proposed site had been used by the local community for over eighty years, and as a garden centre for the last twenty. The garden centre ran workshops, activities and horticultural lessons for local residents, but had to close for economic reasons.
Mr Coleman opposed the planning decision to develop the site of the garden centre. He argued that it was of particular benefit to elderly people (as well as those with disabilities). He argued that allowing the planning decision would have a disproportionate impact on these groups. The average age of those living in nearby housing estates was 85 and there were little other local facilities available to this age group.
Mr Coleman claimed that Barnet had breached its public sector equality duty when deciding to grant the planning permission by failing to consider the impact on elderly and disabled people by letting the planning permission go ahead. The public sector equality duty (contained in s.149 Equality Act 2010) requires all public sector bodies in the exercise of its functions to eliminate discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations between those who have a protected characteristic and those who do not.
Mr Coleman brought a claim for judicial review of Barnet’s decision in the High Court.
The Court found that the effect of the public sector equality duty is that a public body must have due regard to eliminating discrimination. The duty does not require that a public body achieve a specific result or outcome.
There was no direct discrimination in this case. The garden centre had already closed as it was no longer economically viable. This was not Barnet’s decision as the garden centre was a commercial entity outside of its control. Barnet was not making a decision to remove or reduce a service.
Barnet stated that the public sector equality duty was one of the main issues to consider when making the planning decision. There had been wide consultation on the planning decision involving local residents and bodies and users of the garden centre, and this was fed back to the committee. All these considerations were properly weighed up when the planning decision was made. The Court found that Barnet had appropriately discharged its duty.
The Court rejected the other grounds of judicial review raised by Mr Coleman. The claim was dismissed in its entirety.
R (on the application of Coleman) v London Borough of Barnet Council, Queen's Bench Division (Admin Court), 21 December 2012