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Saturday, 4 September 2010

Coombes Farm to go to Judicial Review? UPDATE 15th September

Colonnade's last throw of the dice? Full info on campaign website (click on title of this post)

Now the application for 163 houses at Stambridge Mill has been submitted and, given the location is on brownfield and has Council support, is likely to get approval, the nightmare scenario of nearly 500 new homes in a small area moves another step to becoming reality.

But stepping back from a moment I have to remind myself what the judicial review process involves. It's not about questioning the decision the Planning Inspector made when refusing development at Coombes Farm, it's about the process she followed to get there.

Therefore if you accept that the decision was correct - basically, refusal due to there being no exceptional circumstances allowing re-classification of Coombes Farm as green belt - and it is only process that is found at be at fault then the judicial review is far from guaranteeing Colonnade, the developer, success.

It may be that the process has to be reviewed, but the same decision is reached.

It may be that this is indeed Colonnade's last throw of the dice and the Judge throws out their application for review.

It may of course be the first step towards Coombes Farm being concreted over but I remain optimistic, but frustrated and disappointed that Stambridge and Rochford residents, who have been united in their opposition to these plans, have to endure the agony of a further protracted period of uncertainty.

In the meantime the Council continues with its attempts to get its "core strategy" signed off by a Government Inspector, and other planning applications such as Stambridge Mill and Brays Lane will no doubt be shortly decided upon.

For Coombes Farm, perhaps the longer the application for Judicial Review takes, the better. Much time in the Planning Inquiry was devoted to affordable housing, or rather Rochford's lack of. This was presented by Colonnade as a strong reason for agreeing the development. If other developments come forward, in sites which are less controversial, which address the affordable and overall housing targets this may help to defend Coombes Farm if a further Court hearing has to take place.

The ifs and buts continue...

UPDATE 15th September

22nd October could be a key date for the Coombes Farm saga. A completely separate housebuilder, Cala Homes, has succeeded in obtaining a fast tracked judicial review hearing in respect of their plans to build a few thousand homes in Winchester. Their plans were refused partly because Eric Pickles wrote to Councils advising that they no longer were bound by the previous Government's house building targets. Whilst the Government plans to reinforce this with a new Act of Parliament probably in 2011 (the "localism bill")the issue at stake is whether Eric Pickles' letter can be given "material weight", ie can it be relied upon in a legal sense when planning decisions are made by Councils, Government Planning Inspectors, etc. The Government has sought legal advice and believes it can, but Cala Homes' legal advice is obviously different which is perhaps hardly surprising since they are represented by the same QC as Colonnade, Peter Village.

The relevance to Coombes Farm? Given the Inspector based her decison largely on green belt legislation you would think very little. However, as I've mentioned earlier in this post, the application for Judicial Review isn't about the decision it's about the process to get to the decision. In the Grounds for Appeal, Colonnade cite the Inspector's reference to Eric Pickles letter. They reckon the letter is unlawful and the Inspector should not have even referred to it in her decision making. If Colonnade are right, the Cala Homes Hearing will, if it succeeds, give them the precedent they need. But as I've stated at the beginning of this post they're still a long way away from getting the decison changed.