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Council launches judicial review action after inspector looks to reject key plan

Planning iStock 000002733689Small 146x219Durham County Council has said it had “no choice” but to seek a judicial review after a planning inspector threatened to find the County Durham Plan unsound.

Durham submitted the Plan to the Government in April last year. An examination in public was then held in October and November.

The independent planning inspector, Harold Stephens, published his interim report on 18 February 2015.

Stephens concluded that:

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  • The vision for a successful local economy incorporated unrealistic assumptions about jobs growth;
  • The Strategic Economic Plan was “evidently very ambitious”;
  • The objective assessment of housing needs was too high;
  • The spatial distribution was not justified particularly for Durham City;
  • The process and evidence relating to the proposed amendments to the Green Belt boundary were flawed; and
  • The proposed Western and Northern Relief Roads were not justified, deliverable or environmentally acceptable.

In his report Stephens gave the council three options, namely to:

  1. Continue the examination – but he warned that he would then find the Plan unsound;
  2. Suspend the examination – but he believed that the Plan could not be rectified within a reasonable timescale and would require a significantly different plan; or
  3. Withdraw the Plan.

Durham subsequently met with the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) to outline its concerns. PINS reportedly offered a 4th possible 'hybrid' option involving a further Examination In Public (EIP) session to discuss the council's concerns.

The authority then wrote to the Inspector, requesting he reopen the examination to consider its concerns regarding his interim report. However, Stephens responded by confirming he would not reopen the examination as requested.

Durham lodged its judicial review papers at the High Court in Leeds last week, ahead of the deadline of 18 May.

Ian Thompson, corporate director of regeneration and economic development at Durham, said: “Following a constructive meeting with the Planning Inspectorate we had hoped there would be further examination in public hearing sessions to explore the points we referred to in our letter to the inspector.

"Consequently, it came as a disappointment that the Planning Inspector has now declined to reopen the examination so that our concerns can be fully explored in the public domain. The impartial advice we have received since the inspector's report was published supports our commitment to the soundness of the Plan's forecasts for job creation and homes. We maintain the Plan offers the best prospect for economic growth and a once in a generation opportunity to see our county deliver on its potential to safeguard the sort of life we want every resident to have the opportunity to strive for.”

Thompson added: "We have explored every option and opportunity in our efforts to demonstrate this, which has included employing independent planning experts to review our business-backed predictions for growth.

"We now have no choice but to pursue this matter through the courts by way of a judicial review. This is not a decision we take lightly. This is not the position we hoped to be in."

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