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Consultants 'were not negligent' despite some failings

Posted: 12th November 2012   In: Dispute Resolution

The High Court has ruled that a group of engineering consultants were not negligent when advising on a major development – even though they failed to predict some important issues.

The consultants had been asked by the commissioners of a drainage authority to explore options for upgrading a pumping station.

They carried out research with local authorities and other interested bodies and received no material objections. The local planning authority indicated that a new pumping station would not require planning permission as it would be a permitted development.

The consultants then advised the commissioners that the station would not need planning permission, but noted that the issue of permitted development was open to interpretation.

When the project went ahead, local residents objected to a temporary access road required for the works. They issued proceedings for a judicial review of the decision to proceed. Their grounds included the lack of planning permission.

The claim was settled with the commissioners agreeing not to rely on permitted development rights and paying the residents’ costs.

The commissioners then alleged that the consultants had been negligent in advising that the work was a permitted development and that it was unnecessary to obtain a certificate of lawful use.

The court, however, found in favour of the consultants. It noted that professionals were liable for damage caused by advice which no reasonably well-informed and competent member of a profession would have given. However, that was not what had happened in this case.

The consultants had carried out extensive enquiries. They had taken into consideration the fact that the local authority considered that planning permission was not required.

They had not anticipated that residents might seek a judicial review, but that was not negligent in light of the fact that there had been extensive consultations yielding no objections.

The consultants had exercised reasonable judgment in the circumstances.

Please contact Neil O’Callaghan if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any matter relating to professional negligence.