High Court judge rejects challenge to Essex local plan document

Out-Law News | 13 Jan 2015 | 5:01 pm | 1 min. read

A High Court judge has rejected a challenge to the adoption of a planning document which seeks to direct the location of development in a district of south Essex.

Local resident Linda Kendall brought a legal challenge against Rochford District Council's adoption of its site allocations plan (SAP) in February 2014, alleging that the public consultation process undertaken by the Council prior to adopting the document had been inadequate. Kendall asked the High Court to remit to the Council or quash certain policies in the SAP, and to direct it to carry out further public consultation on the policies.

In a decision dated 19 December, Mr Justice Lindblom said an examining inspector had been correct to find that the Council's consultation on the draft SAP had been carried out properly and in accordance with the Council's own statement of community involvement. The Council had used a variety of techniques to publicise the consultation, including publishing notices in the local press, consulting community groups and voluntary organisations and using its own website.

However, the judge agreed with Kendall that the process followed by the Council in two separate consultations, which presented the draft SAP alongside a sustainability appraisal, had breached a European Union directive that sought to ensure the members of the public were aware of the likely environmental effects of developments. In these consultations, the Council had contacted certain members of the public directly, but had only advertised the consultation to the general public on its own website.

Mr Justice Lindblom said that, in relying on its website alone "as the sole means by which it invited the general public to comment on the draft plan and its sustainability appraisal but also as the sole means by which it made known to them that this is what it was doing", the Council had failed effectively to notify the public in accordance with the directive.

The judge decided, however, that it would not be "reasonable or proportionate" to make an order quashing policies in the SAP or remitting them to the Council and directing further consultation.

Mr Justice Lindblom said that, while the Council had consulted the public "in a less than wholly effective way" in relation to the sustainability appraisal, it had produced a legally valid environmental report "in a timely manner" and had acted "in good faith".

He noted that the Council's core strategy, which preceded the SAP, "had itself been subjected to environmental assessment" and decided that "the plan-making process as a whole gave the public a sufficient opportunity to reflect upon and respond to the policies and allocations proposed in the draft plan in the light of the sustainability appraisal".

"To strike down an adopted plan, whether in whole or in part, is always a draconian step for the court to take," concluded Mr Justice Lindblom. "To do that here would be disproportionate and wrong."