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Council faces legal action over plan for football club training ground

A London borough is facing legal action over its decision to grant Queen’s Park Rangers planning permission to redevelop land and to grant the football club a 200-year lease.

Warren Farm, the land at the centre of the dispute, is an open grass area used as a local authority sports complex.

Ealing Council granted planning permission to QPR on 20 December 2013. The club plans to redevelop a significant section of the site as a training and academy headquarters. There would still be football pitches and cricket pitches for community sport in the remaining area.

However, the Hanwell Community Forum – advised by law firm DH Law – has brought judicial review proceedings over the grant of planning permission and the award of the lease.

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The claimants argue – amongst other things – that:

  • The local authority fettered the exercise of its discretion under s. 70 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 “having predetermined the development to be permitted on [its] land, and the circumstances in granting planning permission and completing the development agreement on 20 December 2013 gives rise to the inference of bias”;
  • “Given the material and significant differences between development envisaged and approved, in the absence of approval by the Cabinet following the consultation exercise under s. 123 of the Local Government Act 1972, the Executive Director of Environment and Customer Services acted outwith his delegation by approving the disposal of Warren Farm and the council subsequently granting planning permission and completing the development agreement”. In all the circumstances the Executive Director of Environment and Customer Services did not have the authority to complete the development agreement for the disposal of Warren Farm to QPR and unlawfully both the development agreement and planning permission were issued;
  • The Executive Director unlawfully completed the development agreement on 20 December following his private consideration of the objections received under s. 123(2A) of the 1972 Act. “Having received objections to the proposed disposal of Warren Farm, which is ‘open space’ for the purposes of the Act, the council’s Executive Director acted without authority in considering and dismissing the objections without referring objections to the Officers Key Decision meeting.” The director was not authorised to make the decision in private, it was argued, and the council’s disposal of Warren Farm was in breach of s. 123 “as the objections were not lawfully considered by officers approved to make key decisions”.

In the letter before action, the claimants called on the council to revoke its planning decision and rescind the lease granted to QPR. They will also be applying for a protective costs order.

Carolyn Brown, Chair of Hanwell Community Forum, said: “To justify giving away this valuable green space, Ealing Council has valued the land at between £1.8-2.25m, equivalent to a single, large house in central Ealing, and only what we understand to be 6-7% of its true market value.”

A spokeswoman for Ealing said: “We are disappointed that an application for a judicial review has been made and have no choice but to defend any legal action taken. The council is confident it has secured an excellent deal for local people. QPR will invest millions of pounds into community sports facilities and a comprehensive community sports development programme – and at no cost to tax payers.

“The council has kept its roles as a landowner and a planning authority separate throughout the process, and the committee’s decision to approve the plans was sound and based on proper planning conditions.”

The council insisted that the 200-year lease would ensure ongoing investment. It also said that the decision had been reviewed by the council’s overview and scrutiny committee and upheld, and extensive consultation in excess of statutory requirements had taken place.

Ealing also claimed that Hanwell Community Forum represented a small number of residents and did not directly border the site. It claimed that Norwood Green residents, who bordered the site, had welcomed the plans.

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