19 January 2011

Planning Defamation

An interesting story from the Guardian tells us a few bits and pieces around the beginning of a defamation case, Soil Association given libel warning after objection to huge pig farm.

The soil association objected to the granting of planning permission to a pig farm, in response they received

"a threatening letter from Carter-Ruck, [acting for the pig farmers], saying its objection is defamatory and should be withdrawn.
When MPP was asked why it had chosen to use the libel laws against the Soil Association, it said the association had made comments not relevant to the specific planning application.

"We were concerned that this could lead to misunderstanding of the facts," it said. "We requested the Soil Association's research to back up these claims and asked if we could meet them to discuss the situation. Disappointingly we did not receive a response until we sent a letter from our solicitor. MPP has used a completely open and transparent approach and we have always made it clear that we respect people's right to their own opinion. With regard to libel laws, we are not qualified to comment."

Carter-Ruck said: "Our client was concerned by the Soil Association's use of the planning process as a platform to raise concerns about issues of policy which were not directly relevant to its specific planning application. The allegations were defamatory and as such our client had a right to defend itself. Our client's rebuttal made clear that it was not seeking to influence the views of the Soil Association or to stifle debate [but is committed to ensuring that] and that all sides of the debate are as accurate and informed as possible. Our client was not seeking to silence opposition but to engage with it."

I imagine defamation issues around planning permission is fairly commonplace.

In a village close to where I live, someone objected to their neighbour's planning application for an extension to their house on the basis that the neighbour would be able to see into their daughter's bedroom from the extension. This was considered to be a libel; the objectors had to apologize for their defamatory statement and had to put a notice on their gate containing the apology.

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