Our colleagues in Brodies' planning team have blogged on a recent decision by the Court of Session in a planning statutory appeal brought by the City of Edinburgh Council against the Scottish Ministers. You can read the court's decision here. The background is set out in the planning team's blog but, in brief, the Council appealed against a decision of the Ministers' reporter to grant planning consent to a large mixed use scheme at Granton Harbour. Unusually, despite both the Council and the Ministers agreeing that the appeal should succeed, the court dismissed the appeal and upheld the reporter's decision.

One of the grounds of challenge was the adequacy of the reasons provided by the reporter, and, helpfully, the court has reiterated the key principles and case authorities applying to 'reasons' challenges. Those might be summarised as follows:

  • The decision maker must "set out the process of reasoning by which he reaches his decision; but that does not require an elaborate philosophical exercise." He does not need to consider every issue raised by the parties and may address only the issues key to his decision - Moray Council v Scottish Ministers 2006 SC 691 (per Lord Justice Clerk at para [30];
  • The decision maker is entitled to set out his reasoning concisely provided that it is intelligible and adequate. The core principle is that the decision letter should leave the informed reader in no substantial doubt as to the decision-maker's findings in fact and his conclusions on key issues, and how he has applied statutory provisions - Moray Council v Scottish Ministers 2006 SC 691 (per Lord Justice Clerk at para [30];
  • Courts must not impose a standard of reasoning on decision-makers which is unreasonable having regard to the purpose intended to be served - Uprichard v Scottish Ministers 2013 SC (UKSC) 2019 (per Lord Reed at para [46]);
  • In looking at the reporter's decision in this case, the court took the view that the decision letter was clear and concise and left the informed reader in no doubt as to the reporter's The reporter had set out the determining issues for his decision and also explained why it was not necessary to engage in detail with submissions made on matters which would not have altered the outcome. The court considered that the summary way in which the Reporter had dealt with objections to the planning application was appropriate and not susceptible to challenge.

Generally, the court is reluctant to quash decisions due to inadequate reasons and will defer to the decision-maker. Only if the decision-maker's reasoning is clearly inadequate or leaves the informed reader in any substantial doubt as to its findings in fact or conclusions on key issues will the court intervene. Challengers face a high bar in order persuade the court to overturn a decision due to inadequate reasoning. This decision does not depart from the court's traditional approach to reasons challenges, and, if anything, reinforces it.

What this case does do is serve as a useful reminder, both for planning authorities, developers and objectors, of the standards to which the courts will hold decision-makers' reasoning process and what it expects to see in written decisions.


Douglas Waddell

Senior Associate