Saturday, 1 September 2012

Councils & business to go to court to contest Whitebirk Retail Park

Hyndburn Council has taken the decision to defend the interests of shop keepers in Accrington town centre against Peel Holdings. Peel are taking an aggressive stance calling for both a judicial review and appealing the planning decisons to ensure they protect and increase their interests despite having planning permissions turned down by Hyndburn councillors.

1. Judicial Review
Peel Land and Property Investments PLC (Peel) has been granted a Judicial Review hearing before the High Court in Manchester to consider its argument that recent planning permissions for various units at Whitebirk have the effect, in law, of overriding the restrictions imposed by the two s106 agreements that exist in relation to the site.

This case will be heard from the 3rd October 2012.

Hyndburn Council along with Blackburn with Darwen Council and The Mall have each appointed leading QC’s to present the defence against this case. 

Peel is required to set out the basis of its legal arguments 21 days before the Hearing. The defendant and other interested parties are required to respond by setting out the basis of their legal arguments 7 days later.

2. Planning Appeal
In addition and separately from the above, Peel has lodged an appeal with the Planning Inspectorate against the Planning Committee’s decision to refuse lawful development certificate applications for the 6 units at Whitebirk. This matter will be heard at a Planning Inquiry which has been scheduled for 5th December 2012.  This Inquiry will be held at the Town Hall, Accrington.

As with the Judicial Review, all the interested parties are expected to retain their own QC’s and any expert witnesses (usually planning consultants or legal experts) to present the legal case. The Planning Inspector would normally reach a conclusion within 6 weeks of the date of the hearing. As the Planning Inquiry is considering a different and narrower legal point to those that will be judged upon by the Judicial Review it is likely to proceed irrespective of the outcome of the Judicial Review.

3. Court of Appeal    
In relation to the Judicial Review it is possible that once the judgement is given either side of the dispute (including the two interested parties ie The Mall and BwD) could ask for a further hearing in the Court of Appeal. 

Similarly, any finding from the Planning Inspector could also be subsequently challenged through a Judicial review by any of the parties if it is felt that the Inspector’s judgement is at fault on a point of law. 

In the case of an appeal against the finding of the Planning Inquiry, it would be the Planning Inspector (rather than the district council) who would be classed as the defendant.

4. The cost
The Council is the defendant in the case and it would therefore be our liability should an order for costs be made by Peel should they be successful. Although it is speculative to which way the case will go, Hyndburn have a very strong case, should the decision go against the Council it is difficult to say how much Peel would ask for in compensation (lost revenue) and costs (legal fee's) should they be successful. Whilst a small risk, should that happen it could be significant enough to 'bankrupt the Council'.

Companies like Peel holdings should not be allowed to operate in this manner for a Council cannot be made bankrupt, any costs will be born by the public in huge Council tax increases. Whilst Lancashire County Council or Manchester City Council could absorb such a cost, Peel know they can bully small District Councils like Hyndburn. 

I think it is important that Peel Holdings not only get a bad name for their predatory activity but that people vote with their feet and boycott their businesses.