Failed St Albans housing plan appeal leaves council with £35,000 bill

St Albans SLP cost about £35,500 in barristers fees, and legal and court costs.

St Albans SLP cost about £35,500 in barristers fees, and legal and court costs. - Credit: Sarah Allison

A failed High Court challenge to try and salvage controversial district housing blueprints has cost St Albans council about £35,000.

St Albans district council’s (SADC) Strategic Local Plan (SLP) outlines all major new builds until 2031, including building 4,000 homes in the Green Belt.

It took more than 10 years to produce - so when Planning inspector David Hogger recommended the document is withdrawn because it had not fully co-operated with surrounding councils on housing and infrastructure issues, SADC challenged his decision.

But High Court Judge Sir Ross Cranston upheld Mr Hogger’s ruling, leaving SADC with difficult decisions about the future and £35,469 worth of barristers’ fees, legal costs and court bills.

This is broken down to £12,545 going to the Secretary of State, £22,000 for the barrister, and court costs of £924.

District Cllr Roma Mills said she did “not support” the decision to go to court: “The squeeze on local government is enormous, at the time when money is so terribly, terribly short, it was not money well spent.

“It has delayed us getting our local plan in place because we still have to go back and address this issue of duty to cooperate and because we have not got a plan some really silly things are happening with planning at the moment.”

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“Not that there’s an excuse for wasting money, but at a time of austerity, at a time when we have to find £800,000 of savings to balance the budget next year, it’s practically ironic and we can’t afford posturing on political matters of housing numbers - which is what this is all about.”

Not all councillors agreed. District Cllr David Yates used a metaphor: “Having place a horse racing bet that failed, would it have been better to not have placed that bet? I honestly don’t know.”

He defended the decision, describing the costs as “definitely worth it”, although he was “disappointed in the outcome”: “I think we were right to see - after receiving David Hogger’s letter, the best way of getting on with this plan was to get another person to have a look at those concerns.

“Has it left us poorer in cash terms? Yes. But if it brings us closer working with places next to us that could be a good thing.”

Planning portfolio holder, district Cllr Mary Maynard said: “It was worth it, and the judge obviously thought so, because the first decision the judge had to make was is this worth considering. The fact that he let it run shows that it was a finely balanced legal judgement.” She noted the judge, Sir Ross Cranston, spent severel weeks considering his answer before finally picking a side.

“If we had won it would have saved us a lot of time and money, because now we have to revise the SLP - but in terms of where we go from here, we will talk with our neighbours and try to understand where they are coming from and what they are doing and give them more insight into our position.”

She said the consequences of not having a plan is “unconstrained building” all over the district and she will go into talks with the surrounding councils “with an open mind”.