High Court rules adoption of Harrogate's Local Plan was unlawful after legal battle over 3,000 homes
A High Court judge has ruled that the adoption of Harrogate's Local Plan was unlawful because councillors did not consider a key report which laid the grounds for a controversial 3,000-home settlement.
The ruling came from the honourable Mr Justice Holgate who has handed down an order for Harrogate Borough Council to reconsider the housing masterplan which sets out where thousands of new homes will be built over the next 15 years.
The decision was part of a legal battle between the council and housing developers Flaxby Park Ltd which have long argued that the former Flaxby Golf Course - which it owns and lies east of Knaresborough - is the right location for a huge housing settlement.
The council, however, has shown its strong support for and is partway through a public consultation on plans to build the homes in the Green Hammerton and Cattal area.
Flaxby Park launched a judicial review challenge to the council's decision on this which Mr Justice Holgate ruled was lawful, however, he did detect a legal flaw in the adoption process.
He said the council "did not take into account" an environmental assessment and consultation responses before reaching its decision to adopt in March.
The ruling means that while the Local Plan does not need to be quashed in part, or full, it will have to be put back before councillors so the error can be corrected.
Mr Justice Holgate said although Flaxby Park had been successful in-part of its legal challenge, they had mounted a "time-consuming and costly attack" and had "failed in achieving what was plainly the main object or thrust of the challenge."
However, Chris Musgrave, chief executive of Flaxby Park, declared the decision as a victory for the developers, adding: "this judicial review and the financial costs to the taxpayer could have been avoided if Harrogate Borough Council had been willing to listen.
"They failed to do this and we hope the ‘culture’ within the council will change.”
The judge rejected Flaxby Park's arguments that councillors failed to consider on an equal basis the two opposing sites for the 3,000-home settlement which has been the most contentious element of the Local Plan since work started on it six years ago.
He was also unpersuaded by Flaxby's complaints that the council failed to consider adequately the "viability and deliverability" of the Green Hammerton and Cattal site which local campaigners have long opposed.
After the judgement was handed down, a spokesman for Harrogate Borough Council said: “We are pleased that the court has dismissed outright two of the three challenges brought by Flaxby Park Limited, with the judge stating ‘they were weak grounds’.
“The judge is clear there were no flaws in the development of the local plan, the process was fair and equal, and that sufficient evidence had been put forward in relation to the new settlement.
“The court’s view is there was a single procedural issue because specific attention was not drawn to an updated sustainability appraisal when adoption of the local plan was discussed by councillors, even though the document was in the public domain at the time."
The council will meet to reconsider the Local Plan on 9 December.
What is the Local Plan?
The Local Plan is a blueprint for the future development of the Harrogate district, drawn up by planning officials and agreed by councillors.
It sets out areas where thousands of new homes and businesses should be built up until 2035, and guides decisions on whether or not planning applications can be granted.
Harrogate Borough Council adopted its Local Plan in March. Before this, the council had less control over where and what type of new homes should be built in the area.
The council hailed the adoption of the Local Plan as a major achievement and said it would put an end to a "free for all" of uncontrolled developments.
However, there are still concerns over some of the sites chosen in the masterplan and whether the district's infrastructure will be able to cope.
By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporterv