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High Court dismisses challenge to Shell Centre redevelopment

Out-Law News | 02 Mar 2015 | 10:04 am | 2 min. read

The High Court has dismissed a challenge to a decision by communities secretary Eric Pickles to grant permission for the redevelopment of the 3.5-hectare Shell Centre site near Waterloo Station on London's South Bank.

In a decision dated 26 February, High Court judge Mr Justice Collins dismissed a claim by local activist George Turner that the planning inspector who reported to the communities secretary had made errors of law in coming to his conclusions. However the judge said he had been "seriously concerned at the inspector's conduct at the inquiry" into the application.

Braeburn Estates, a joint-venture between Canary Wharf Group and Qatari Diar Group, submitted plans to Lambeth Council in 2012 for a mixed-use development surrounding the existing 27-storey Shell Tower. The application was called in for determination by Pickles in 2013, in order to consider in detail its design and the potential threat to the World Heritage site at Westminster.

In deciding to grant permission for the scheme, Pickles accepted the recommendation of planning inspector John Braithwaite, who had held an inquiry into the proposal in November and December 2013.

Turner had argued that Braithwaite had failed properly to consider the viability of the proposed scheme in coming to his recommendation. He claimed that the inspector ought to have insisted that a confidential viability report produced for the developers by planning consultancy Quod was disclosed to the inquiry rather than relying on a review of the report produced by BNP Paribas (BNPP) on behalf of the Council.

The judge decided "[Turner's] contention that the Quod report had to be disclosed is not maintainable". He noted that, where there was a call-in, "what would be disclosed would be the [Council planning] officer's report which should include such of the confidential report as could be disclosed and its conclusions". In this case, the inspector had also considered the BNPP report which, Mr Justice Collins said, "gives all necessary information and there is no reason to doubt that it considered and dealt with the assumptions made by Quod entirely properly".

The judge said the inspector had not erred in the approach taken to open space at the inquiry.  Braithwaite had been entitled to come to the conclusion that, whilst the proposal represented a reduction in the total amount of publicly accessible open space, "the quality and full accessibility of the open space that would be provided within the development outweighs the greater amount but poor quality of open space currently provided".

Mr Justice Collins was satisfied that Braithwaite had appropriately exercised his planning judgment in deciding that the loss of light under the proposal was acceptable and had "had regard to the relevant considerations" in concluding there would be "no harm to any heritage asset" under the scheme.

The judge accepted that Braithwaite had "seriously mismanaged his conduct of the inquiry". Mr Justice Collins said Braithwaite's counting down the time available to Turner when taking witnesses through evidence had been "unsatisfactory" and some of the comments and interruptions by the inspector had given the appearance of bias to certain observers present. However, the judge was satisfied overall that the inspector's conduct was "consistent with judicial misconduct as opposed to bias" and that "there is no doubt that the inspector's conclusions were properly based on the evidence before him".

Mr Justice Collins refused permission Turner to appeal his decision. However, he has the right to request permission to appeal directly from the Court of Appeal within 21 days of the judgment.

See also: Pickles approves Shell Centre plans

Mayor of London gives green light to Shell Centre redevelopment

Lambeth approves Shell Centre redevelopment plans