Social housing of 28 maisonettes was to be destroyed at Firgrove Court for a car park for a superstore. This is part of an unwanted town centre redevelopment, which apart from destroying social housing for a car park for a superstore, would involving leveling the entire northern half of the town for the superstore itself.
But barely had the judge granted leave for a judicial review, than the spin merchants at the Council were hard at work and put out a press release which claimed an historic victory on the part of the Council!
But before examining their claim, first a little bit of history.
Five years ago Farnborough had a thriving town centre, well maybe not thriving, but at least most of the retail units were let, the retailers were not getting rich, but at least they were making money. Then, a little over five years ago, KPI (a Kuwaiti financed property company) bought the town centre. The town centre is now a wasteland, the few retailers who are left ring their hands in despair at the destruction that has been wrought on the town and the fact that no one is listening to them, least of all the Council.
November 2002, the planning committee heard a one-sided presentation of why the northern half of the town should be demolished, and a superstore built, in the process, 28 maisonettes, social housing, were to be destroyed to make way for a car park for the superstore.
The downside of such a development, that it would be the final death blow for the remaining retailers was not mentioned. Nevertheless, the committee were concerned at the lack of information placed before them and resolved they were 'minded to grant outline planning consent', and certain conditions were attached. The application was expected to come back before them once the attached conditions were met and more information was forthcoming.
July 2003, Keith Holland (head of planning) and Eddie Poole (committee chairman), met in secret behind closed doors and granted 'outline planning consent', even though the committee expected the plans to come back before them. The committee was not officially notified until October 2003, those affected by this decision have still not been officially notified.
In parallel with these developments, the developer, KPI (a Kuwaiti financed property company), has applied to the Secretary of State (via GOSE) for stopping up of the highways in the town to facilitate their development, and the Council has kindly offered to serve Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPOs) on the few remaining retailers and householders who get in their way.
Last week (Thursday 12 February 2004), in the High Court in London, leave was applied for permission to bring a judicial review. There were many grounds on which leave could have been granted – lack of environmental impact assessment, lack of retail impact assessment, breach of human rights of tenants at Firgrove Court etc – the judge granted leave on the grounds that the planning application had been unlawfully granted. By doing so he quite generously gave the Council the opportunity to consider all other aspects when the application is placed before the committee which is why he does not expect the case will be back before him.
At no time has the judge ruled on the particular merits of the case, as no ruling has been made, he has simply granted leave for the case to go before him.
It is thus not true to claim 'Rushmoor Council has won a court case challenging its decision to grant outline planning permission for the northern end of Queensmead in Farnborough' as no ruling was made by the judge on the case.
Nor did the judge rule on any particular aspects of the case.
It is thus not true that 'the Council had adequately considered the issue of human rights' as the judge made no ruling, and at the only committee where the case was discussed (November 2002) human rights were not even mentioned, let alone 'adequately considered'.
The unlawful consent as it stands breaches the human rights of the tenants at Firgrove Court on two counts, and there will be grounds to go back before the High Court, if the committee continues to breach their human rights.
Nor has the judge ruled on the environmental impact or retail impact of the case. Rushmoor has carried out neither environmental nor retail impact assessments, and no such assessments have been placed before the committee. A development of this scale, would require an environmental impact assessment to be carried out, and a failure to do so would be a breach of an EU Directive.
The grounds on which the judge said the case could proceed have been dismissed by Rushmoor as 'one minor procedural point'. This 'minor procedural point' was that the head of planning and committee chairman unlawfully granted outline planning consent. They had no delegated powers to grant permission, their actions were a clear breach of the Council's own constitution.
The Council could continue to fight the case and waste a great deal of taxpayers money, or they could have the decency to admit they were wrong, issue a public apology, and then handle the application properly by starting with a clean slate, a fresh application, and determine the application after carrying out widespread public consultation.
But we can see how they wish to proceed by the statements they have made and continue to make.
Before the case was before the judge, the chairman of the planning committee Eddie Poole attacked those objecting to the destruction of their town, as 'intellectual vandals of the most despicable kind' and went on to say 'in the end, we will win'. In making these comments, Poole has shown himself to be unfit to be on the committee, let alone remain as its chairman. Not so long ago Rushmoor deputy leader Peter Moyle dismissed the concerns of retailers as 'hearsay'.
Now Moyle claims 'the delays in redeveloping the town centre have frustrated all who live and work in Farnborough'. What not only frustrates but angers everyone, is people like Moyle, colluding in the destruction of their town.
None of this should illicit any surprise. A couple of years ago Rushmoor were forced into an out-of-court settlement to carry out a safety study of flying at Farnborough before they could grant TAG Aviation full planning consent for a Business Airport. After agreeing to the settlement, the alternative was the possibility of a judicial review, Rushmoor claimed they had won and the other side had failed to turn up in court!
What has happened in Farnborough, and the contempt for the local community by those tasked with looking after the interests of the community, bodes ill for the relocation of an abattoir from Farnborough to Aldershot. As we have seen from numerous statements in the local press, minds have already been made up, it is going to Aldershot whether people like it or not, and the deliberations by the planning committee is nothing but farce.
Contrary to the claim made by Rushmoor, the Council did not win the court case on Farnborough town centre. Contrary to the claim made by Rushmoor, the judge did not throw out the case that the town centre planning application had not been properly considered, nor did he rule that the Council had acted reasonably.
On the contrary, the judge decided there was a case to answer and granted leave for a judicial review of Rushmoor's planning decision in granting outline planning consent for KPI to demolish the northern half of Farnborough town centre, build a superstore, and in the process demolish social housing at Firgrove Court for the store's car park.
If Rushmoor do not wish to be back in court, then they have to quash the unlawful planning consent, consider a fresh application that does not breach the human rights of the residents of Firgrove Court and takes on board the wishes of the local community and local retailers.
The judge (Mr Justice Sullivan - an experienced planning judge) strongly suggested to the Council that they should not fight the judicial review further, should agree to a quashing of the planning permission and should take the matter back to the planning committee for a proper decision.
His Honour, Mr Justice Sullivan, may wish to ponder the interpretation Rushmoor have placed on his leave to take a judicial review.
Simon Coughlin, Delays annoy councillors, Farnborough News, 6 February 2004
Council wins court case on Farnborough town centre, press release, Rushmoor Borough Council, 17 February 2004
Keith Parkins, Trashing of Farnborough Town Centre, www.heureka.clara.net, November 2002
Keith Parkins, Trashing of Farnborough Town Centre, Indymedia UK, 11 November 2002
Keith Parkins, Trashing of Farnborough Town Centre, Indymedia UK, 14 November 2002
Keith Parkins, Farnborough town centre, Indymedia UK, 8 September 2003
Keith Parkins, Farnborough town centre - compulsory purchase orders, Indymedia UK, 16 October 2003
Keith Parkins, Town & Out II, Corporate Watch, 14 January 2004
Keith Parkins, Social landlords are deviating from their intended purpose, Indymedia UK, 20 January 2004
Keith Parkins, Registered social landlords – the new corporations, Indymedia UK, 18 February 2004
Keith Parkins, Registered social landlords – the new corporations, Corporate Watch Newsletter, January-February 2004
Keith Parkins, A crisis of democracy, to be published
Keith Parkins, Farnborough town centre - judicial review, Corporate Watch, to be published