A chancery court has ruled that former environment minister Geoffrey Boot had breached rules and ‘procedural fairness’ in his refusal to overturn the decision on an appealed planning application to convert the Liverpool Arms pub into a residential house.
First Deemster Andrew Corlett has ordered the decision be sent back to DEFA for reconsideration.
Heron & Brearley’s 2018 application for the former Baldrine public house was initially refused by the planning committee, but after its appeal the case was referred by the Cabinet Office to planning inspector, Michael Hurley.
Mr Hurley advised that the Minister, then Mr Boot, should overturn the planning committee’s decision.
Instead however, H&B claimed that Mr Boot took advice from an external planning adviser, Kevin Gillespie and his chief executive Richard Lole.
The decision ruling says that the brewery claimed that ‘Mr Gillespie expressed an opinion which was unfavourable to H&B’s appeal and about which H&B ought to have been but were not given the opportunity to comment’.
Deemster Corlett ultimately agreed and ruled that the decision was ‘unsustainable and unreasonable’.
Mr Hurley’s report said that ‘on the balance of probability, the building is now redundant as a pub, and has no realistic prospect of being restored to commercial viability in that use’.
As such, he recommended that the refusal be overturned and the appeal granted.
However, when this report was delivered to the Cabinet Office, it was passed onto a civil servant at DEFA who, instead of sending it to Mr Boot, sent it on to Kevin Gillespie. Mr Gillespie had been appointed to provide ‘advice on planning matters to be determined by the Minister’.
Mr Gillespie then wrote to Mr Lole and Mr Boot’s executive assistant that while he agreed with Mr Hurley, his ‘gut feeling is that this decision could be used again and again by Heron Brearley (or any other public house owner) as the ‘precedent’ for similar applications to come forward of which I suspect there could be many’.
He added: ‘This decision in effect establishes the framework and arguments for Heron and Brearley (or any other public house owner) to utilise in any subsequent application and therefore it may ultimately see the loss of the ‘public house’ to large parts of the island.
‘This is of course my own observation and as I say gut feeling but I thought I should at least raise this with you.’
Mr Boot told the court that he did have a Microsoft Teams conference with Mr Gillespie on May 27, 2021, but that no notes were take by either side.
Deemster Corlett concluded that Mr Boot ‘was obliged to notify the parties (and especially H&B) that he was considering reaching a determination which was at odds with a finding of fact made by the inspector’, and that in not doing so had ‘failed in his duty to observe the rules of procedural fairness’, so therefore ‘on this basis alone, his decision must be quashed’.