St Albans District Council launches legal action against ‘flawed conclusion’

St Albans council is seeking a judicial review

St Albans council is seeking a judicial review - Credit: Archant

A legal challenge has been launched after a scathing report on St Albans’ future expansion, where a government official effectively rejected a major blueprint.

St Albans district council is fighting a planning inspector’s conclusion that it has failed to meet its duty to co-operate while drawing up its Strategic Local Plan (SLP).

The authority started legal proceedings yesterday (Thursday) against the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to quash the decision.

Last year, the council submitted its draft SLP for approval to the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG).

Planning inspector David Hogger examined the blueprint, which indicates where the council hopes to expand, including onto the Green Belt.

He held an initial hearing on October 26, 2016 and sent the council his conclusions on November 28.

In his letter, he accused the council of failing to meet its duty to cooperate with neighbouring planning authorities while drawing up the SLP.

He said St Albans could not be “selective over which of its neighbours it cooperates with”.

This duty is set out in section 33A of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase 2004 Act.

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After taking external legal advice, the council has now decided to take legal action against the Secretary of State.

It has applied to the High Court for permission to seek a Judicial Review of his planning inspector’s decision. A judge will consider the application in the next few weeks.

The council contends that the decision is unlawful and is challenging it on five grounds:

• Firstly, the council says the inspector wrongly interpreted parts of the National Planning Policy Framework. He took into account immaterial considerations in relation to the identification of strategic issues within the SLP.

• Secondly, he failed to engage with or take into account the issues which were engaged with in the plan-making process when reaching conclusions on the duty to cooperate.

• Thirdly, he failed to identify what matters were strategic for the purposes of Section 33A of the 2004 Act.

• Fourthly, in reaching his conclusions on the relationship between Dacorum borough council’s core strategy and the SLP, he made an error of law.

• Finally, the inspector made conclusions on the soundness of the SLP which were wrong.

Councillor Julian Daly, the council’s leader and portfolio holder for the SLP, said: “The council believes the inspector’s conclusion that we did not meet the duty to co-operate is flawed.

“We are therefore seeking a judicial review of the decision and look forward to having our case heard.”

He went on: “However, we remain committed to meeting with the [neighbouring] councils which raised concerns so that we can understand and address their positions.

“I will continue to work closely with the other parties’ spokespeople in the development of the council’s approach.”

The SLP sets out policies on development in the district until 2031, identifying land for new housing, infrastructure, commerce, industry and social amenities. It was produced following two intensive public consultations.