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COUNCIL LOSE JUDICIAL REVIEW: Manydown Exclusion Unlawful: Core Strategy Unsound

The Manydown Development Company (MDC) won an emphatic victory today in their legal action against Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council.

Their Press Release, copied in full below, gives you the full story. The core points of the judgement are:

  • BDBC acted unlawfully in refusing to reconsider its landowning position in relation to the Manydown land BAS098; * BDBC acted unlawfully in approving its draft Core Strategy.
  • The High Court has quashed those decisions AND the related decision to refer certain matters to the Manydown Executive Committee for further consideration (in what was described in Court as a patently obvious "Yes Minister"  Plan B manoeuvre beloved of Sir Humphrey). It has ordered the Council to reconsider afresh its Core Strategy.
  • The High Court has pronounced that the decisions of both the full Council on 15 December 2011 and the BDBC Cabinet on 23 January 2012 were "irrational". On the latter the judgment says: "If [the Cabinet] had directed itself properly on the facts before it, it could not reasonably have reached the conclusion that the Manydown site was not available . There was no logical or defensible basis for the decision it took".
  • The Court found the Council's actions unlawful in that "the Council has sought to use its control of the Manydown site as a means of delaying the development of land that was acquired, with public money, for the express purpose of promoting development".

The Court has, without exception, granted the Company the relief it sought on the terms requested by the Company. BDBC has been ordered to pay the Company's costs.

SOLVE, who has worked closely with the MDC, congratulations them on their victory. SOLVE has claimed for a long time that the decisions taken by the Administration to exclude Manydown were wrong, so we are naturally pleased with the decision. We were told by the Chief Executive and by the Administration that our claims were “completely devoid of merit” and “fundamentally flawed”.

It is a shame that residents and landowners had to turn to the courts because they cannot trust their local Council. Now that a High Court Judge has made it clear that the Council acted unlawfully, we hope that both the Executive Officers and the Conservative Leadership will apologise and take responsibility for the illegal decisions.

They have misled the people of Basingstoke and wasted hundreds of thousands of pounds pushing through a planning process that has been proven to be fundamentally flawed and that was clearly motivated by party politics rather than what was best for Basingstoke. As well as re-inserting Manydown for consideration in the new LDF meaning a completely new plan should be developed, we expect someone to take responsibility for the dreadful waste of time and money this Administration has presided over.

MDC Press Release follows:

JUDGE RULES COUNCIL’S DECISION TO CONSULT ON DRAFT CORE STRATEGY UNLAWFUL AND IRRATIONAL

The High Court has today ruled that Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council’s (“Council”) refusal to consider its land at Manydown for possible housing development was unlawful.  In a detailed judgment running to 40pages, Mr Justice Lindblom upheld an action for judicial review against two decisions of the Council not to reconsider making Manydown available for inclusion in its draft core strategy and its decision to put its pre submission core strategy out to consultation. The judge quashed both decisions and ordered the Council to reconsider its position lawfully. 

In 1996 the Council bought Manydown in a multi-million pound deal funded by the proceeds of its sale of council housing stock specifically earmarked for housing development. The site was expressly acquired under statutory planning powers to promote housing development and held by the Council for the purpose of ensuring its development as high quality housing in the right amount at the right time. In preparing the draft Core Strategy setting out the Council’s long term vision for planning development in the borough, Council planners and their independent consultants identified no “show stoppers” to Manydown being considered for housing development, save one – the refusal of the “landowner” to make the land available. In a decision characterised by the court as “irrational” the Council concluded that due to ownership constraints the land could not be considered for inclusion in the draft Core Strategy. But the “landowner” is, of course, the Council.  The judge said: “I cannot see any escape from the conclusion that the Council’s decision was not only inconsistent with the purpose for which the Manydown land was acquired and held, but plainly contrary to that purpose.”

Mr Justice Lindblom found that the Council had misapplied government housing policy and said: “It was, I believe, a fundamental misconception on the part of the Council to regard the decision it had taken…to suspend the active promotion of Manydown site for development…as meaning at the end of 2011 the site must be regarded as being unavailable for development.”  Ruling that the Council’s analysis was “clearly irrational and unlawful” the judge also said “If the Council truly considered the site to be unavailable for development, it should have seen that this was an impediment it could have removed, and with it, the only remaining barrier to its promotion of the site for development.”  

Instead, the ruling Conservative administration had produced a draft core strategy for consultation which attempted to pour development into the Loddon Valley, an exceptionally rich natural environment and one of the most attractive areas of countryside in the borough- no planning explanation has been given for this, and in Court, it was suggested by counsel for The Manydown Company that in the absence of any other reasons, the motivation for this could have only been party political. As a result of today’s court ruling the current consultation round must be abandoned and the draft Core Strategy will need to be reconsidered afresh.  

This case was brought by The Manydown Company which had been induced by the Council to sell the land in 1996 on assurances that it was intended by the Council for a flagship development. A director of the Company commented: "The Council has acted unlawfully. Development of the Manydown land, in whole or part, offers a unique opportunity for Basingstoke to deliver better infrastructure, better facilities, better open spaces for public enjoyment, better housing and flagship affordable housing at no cost to the tax payer. The Court has given a clear direction to the Council to put its house in order."

The decision will be welcomed in the borough where there had been a widespread local outcry in respect of the Council’s handling of the planning process including from environment groups such as SOLVE, local parishes faced with massive housing development allocations in the draft Core Strategy, and by local politicians outraged that funds earmarked for housing were being squandered. 

The Council has been ordered by the court to pay The Manydown Company’s costs.

More on the BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-hampshire-17750308

And Basingstoke Gazette: http://www.basingstokegazette.co.uk/news/local/9653482.Major_legal_decision_goes_against_borough_on_Manydown/

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