Today in the Administrative Court and Divisional Courts sitting at the Royal Courts of Justice Mr Justice Ousley upheld the legal challenge of the Joint Core Strategy (JCS) submitted by Stephen Heard, Chair of the local community campaign group called Stop Norwich Urbanisation (SNUB) on the basis that the Greater Norwich Development Partnership (GNDP) made up of four local authorities (Broadland, Norfolk County Council, Norwich City and South Norfolk) did:
- Not explain which reasonable alternatives had been selected for the planned growth in Norfolk and why no reasonable alternatives had been selected; and
- Did not exam reasonable alternatives in the same depth as the preferred option.
The Judge made this judgement because EU Directives and English law states that a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) which the Councils had undertaken, did not comply with two requirements:
- first, that it explain which reasonable alternatives to urban growth in the North East Growth Triangle they had selected to examine and why,
- and second, that it examine reasonable alternatives in the same depth as the preferred option which emerged.
In his detailed judgement the Judge explained that documents for a proposed development such as the JCS had to be presented in such a way that they could readily be accessed with no paper chase to find out what had not been considered and why it had been rejected.
Indeed during his summing up when the case was heard in December he uttered the immortal words “this is like wading through treacle” when he was trying to find relevant documentation. He even appealed to the GNDP contingent and asked them why they had not made it simple. Sentiments that the core group of SNUB can relate to as they spent hundreds of hours pouring over very detailed and complex documentation.
The Judge also went on to say that it was less easy to see whether the choice of alternatives involves a major deficiency and that the failure to give reasons for the selection of the preferred option is in reality a failure to give reasons why no alternatives were selected for comparable assessment.
Part of the whole process of consultation is to test whether what may start out as the preferred option should still end up as the preferred option after a fair and public analysis of what the GNDP regards as reasonable alternatives. The Sustainability Appraisal in September 2009 does not do this.
Stephen Heard made the following comments:
“Whist we are pleased that the Judge upheld our legal challenge on our first point we should never have had to be placed in a situation whereby a group of local residents had to put their lives on hold for a number of years to fight this through the courts.
The GNDP and its member Councils knew that here was a risk that the JCS was legally unsound as far back as 2008 yet they chose to ignore advice from a leading planning Barrister that this was the case. Not only did they ignore this advice they also ignored the wishes of local residents represented by elected representatives from six local Parish Councils who came with SNUB (who were representing 3,600 local residents who had signed a petition to this effect) to a meeting with the Cabinet members and Chief Officers team of Broadland District Council in 2009.
In addition SNUB held several public meetings were hundreds of local residents voiced their objections to the JCS and indeed at one such meeting spontaneously called a vote of no confidence in Broadland District Council that was carried unanimously. Yet still they carried on regardless and did not respond to SNUB’s challenges about the lack of a Plan B i.e. the alternatives that the Judge highlighted in his judgement.
They even had the chance to withdraw the JCS when fellow community campaigners in Newmarket achieved a similar decision against Forest Heath District Council last year. They still carried on with their head stuck in the sand!
We also pointed out the flaws in their public consultations and the convoluted manner in which they were conducted, once again highlighted by the Judge, and the difficulty that local residents had in finding the relevant documentation. They also carried out important consultations in August and December knowing the local parish Councils did not historically meet during these holiday months. We believe that this was a deliberate and obtuse decision in order to prevent Parish Councils from participating in the necessary local consultation prior to submitting formal responses.
We fully expect the GNDP spin machine to go into overtime as a consequence of this judgement in order to deflect responsibility onto SNUB who have been called the inevitable NIMBY’s and a Pressure Group. We are none of these and have repeatedly stated that we recognise the need for additional houses but not in the manner represented in what is now an unlawful JCS. As stated in the subsequent Claimants Note on Relief:
“The adoption of the growth policies in Broadland District was therefore unlawful.”
We will now take further legal advice on the next steps, which could include the quashing of the JCS. The campaign continues until the GNDP and the four local authorities see sense and present suitable alternatives for the public to have a view on.”
The next Court Hearing is scheduled for Wednesday 29th February.