Since 4 April 2011, planning authorities have had duties under the Equality Act 2010 in respect of equal rights for the protected characteristics of age, disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation. Planning authorities are required to have regard to the need not just to eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other prohibited conduct, but also to advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it. Similar provisions were in force in predecessor laws relating to sex, race and disability.
It’s easy to see that there might be an impact on procedure by which planning decisions are made, ensuring there is an equal opportunity to take part in decision-making. But are the equality duties a material consideration in a planning decision? R(Harris) v Harringey, a case determined last year under section 149’s forerunner in the old Race Relations Act, shows they can be.
Harris was a challenge to a grant of permission for redevelopment of an area in Seven Sisters, London, which currently is predominantly made up of local independent traders with a mix of Turkish, Cypriot, Colombian and Afro-Caribbean influences, and included an indoor market where most traders were Spanish speaking, with accommodation above. Representations were made that since the traders could not afford rents in the proposed new development and there was no provision for affordable housing, the new development would displace the existing mainly black and minority ethnic communities.
Having “due regard” requires having a conscious approach and state of mind. Although it was evident there was sufficient potential impact on equality of opportunity and good relations for the duty to be engaged, the planning authority had not shown how it had discharged its duty.
Given the larger number of protected characteristics now, we can expect section 149 to figure more often in planning decisions.
On December 9, 2011