Wrexham LDP legal challenge could see council incur £100k costs
Wrexham Council could face legal costs of up to £100,000 if taken to court over its refusal to adopt a Local Development Plan.
That is the stark warning to councillors ahead of another crunch meeting about the LDP next week when they will again be asked to accept it.
A requirement of local authorities by the Welsh Government, Wrexham’s proposed plan was drafted to allocate sites where around 8,000 homes and major developments could be built in the county borough.
This went out to public consultation five years ago before being examined and tweaked by the government and independent inspectors who deemed the plan sound to adopt earlier this year.
Despite being warned that not adopting the LDP would leave the council open to a judicial review and its costs, it was rejected with concerns about some of the sites included in it and the overall impact on the city’s infrastructure.
A judicial review is now a real possibility.
The report to members ahead of the meeting confirms “a consortium of private sector developers” has brought the action against the council for the ‘unlawful’ refusal to adopt the LDP at their meeting in April.
It states: “Advice was sought from an experienced planning/administrative law barrister.
“The advice received is unequivocally clear: the judicial review claim has overwhelming merit and the council has undoubtedly acted unlawfully.
“Counsel’s advice concludes that there are no grounds whatsoever for defending the judicial review claim. On this basis and in order to minimise costs as far as possible, the Council has no plausible option but to concede that an unlawful decision had been made on 19 April.”
The report adds a warning that: “If council fails to adopt the LDP on June 14 the judicial review proceedings will continue and court orders will be imposed on the council to adopt the LDP.
“The court orders will include that the council has to pay the costs of the claimant.
“Council officers are now dealing with the legal proceedings and seeking to minimise the legal costs incurred as far as possible.
“However, the longer the proceedings continue, the more costs are incurred by the council and the greater the costs that will be due to the claimant.
“The costs of the judicial review case proceeding to court are estimated to be between £50,000 – £100,000. There is no budget provision or insurance for those costs.”
Other warnings include reputational damage to the council and the Welsh Government stepping in to ensure that an LDP is put in place.
If the Welsh Government does not step in, the LDP, which has been found sound at examination would be afforded very significant weight in determining planning applications.
According to the report there would also be increased risk of speculative development on land identified for protection in the LDP along with development being delivered through ‘planning by appeal’ rather than in accordance with a robustly tested settlement strategy.
But speaking earlier this week, council leader Esclusham Cllr Mark Pritchard (Ind), who voted against the LDP, remained bullish that councillors should vote for what they believe in and not be frightened by the threat of costs.
He said: “The most important thing is democracy, it overrides everything, that’s what keeps us safe and that’s what keeps us different from other countries across the world.
“Money should not come into it. The democratic process has taken place in that chamber. The sovereignty of that chamber stops within Wrexham, not with the Welsh Government.
“The reason being given why this meeting is being called is because of costs. Is that a legitimate reason to call another meeting? I don’t believe it is because we’ve had our decision and we should now let it go through the law and let a decision be made.
“I respect the law but we are not breaking the law. We have been told we can vote whichever way we want to, so we’re doing nothing wrong.
“Let a judge make a decision. It’s over and above our head now and that’s the way it should be. I am staggered, I’ve never known anything like it.”
The extraordinary full meeting of Wrexham Council takes place on Wednesday, June 14.
By BBC LDRS
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