Will St Albans Strategic Local Plan become subject of a judicial review?

St Albans City and District Council

St Albans City and District Council - Credit: Archant

A decision on whether St Albans’ troubled Strategic Local Plan should become the subject of a judicial review will not be made until June.

The district council is challenging claims it has failed to sufficiently cooperate with neighbouring councils when preparing its planning document, following a damning report by planning inspector David Hogger last November.

Mr Hogger warned he would have to recommend non-adoption of the plan, or the council “may choose to withdraw the SLP”.

However the inspector’s stance and interpretation of the draft plan riled St Albans council, which disputed his conclusions. After taking external legal advice, it started proceedings against the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to quash the inspector’s decision.

The SLP sets out overarching policies on major development throughout the district, including construction of 4,000 homes in the Green Belt, until 2031, and identifies land for new infrastructure, commerce, industry, residential and social amenities.

In its application to the High Court for permission to seek a judicial review of the planning inspector’s decision, the council warns that Mr Hogger’s decision, which would effectively result in the withdrawal of the SLP, “will have direct consequences on the direction of development within the district.”

The council asserts that, “it is of critical importance the future of the plan is resolved as soon as possible.

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“A substantial delay in the hearing of the claim is likely to prejudice the council’s ability to direct development within its area strategically, as planning applications are likely to come before it within the near future, without the benefit of an adopted plan.

“A delay in the adoption of the plan will also affect developers’ decisions as to when and if to bring forward development.”

Today a judge ruled that the claim be dealt with in a “rolled-up” hearing in the High Court. This is where permission to apply for a judicial review is considered at an oral hearing and, if granted, the substantive hearing takes place immediately afterwards.

Mr Justice Holgate ordered that the hearing should take place as soon as possible after June 6 with a time estimate of two days.

He also asked the council to reconsider its Grounds of Claim. This will give the council an opportunity to make sure its grounds “are more focussed” so that competing arguments are “clearer for the court to determine”.

SADC will now take legal advice before filing its amended Grounds of Claim by March 13.