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Campaigners seek oral hearing after refusal of permission for statutory review challenge over adoption of Local Plan

A campaign group has filed a request for an oral hearing after a High Court judge refused permission on the papers for a legal challenge over South Oxfordshire District Council’s decision to proceed with its Local Plan 2035.

The claimant, Bioabundance Community Interest Company, said South Oxfordshire had adopted the plan on 10 December 2020 under pressure from Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).

However, Mr Justice Dove refused Bioabundance’s application to the Planning Court to have the Local Plan quashed.

Bioabundance has now filed a request for an oral court hearing to hear the application for a statutory review under s.113 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004.

The claimant’s lawyers will argue at the oral hearing that claim is clearly arguable and that the challenge should be subject to full substantive hearing.

The grounds for the challenge are:

  • The conduct of the adoption vote: dictation of it by MHCLG, “and the way councillors unlawfully took into consideration the threatened consequences of government intervention”.
  • The calculation of housing numbers by the Plan Inspector working with 775 dwellings per annum instead of the standard 627.
  • The inadequate regard paid to the effect of high housing numbers on climate change.

The plan earmarks land for more than 32,000 homes.

Bioabundance claims the Ministry put the council under intense pressure, “threatening to withhold promised infrastructure funding if the plan was not adopted”.

Dr Sue Roberts, director of Bioabundance, said: “Democracy died when Robert Jenrick forced this Conservative plan through. He overruled the newly elected LibDem-Greens, chosen by the people, and stopped them from scrapping the hated plan. This plan is for four times the number of homes we need: four new homes for every new household. This satisfies greed but not need. The high target cannot be met and will lead to speculative development.”

Leigh Day solicitor Tom Short, who represents Bioabundance with barristers Tim Buley QC and Alex Shattock of Landmark Chambers, said: “It is disappointing that our client’s application for statutory review of the adoption of this local plan has been refused on the papers. The claim is clearly arguable and Bioabundance will now proceed to puts its case to the Court in an oral hearing. At a time of desperate climate emergency, our client considers it vital that full judicial scrutiny is given to the way in which this local plan was pushed through by central government”.

In a statement South Oxfordshire said: “The council has received notification that Bioabundance CIC has made an application to the court seeking to overturn the judge’s decision to refuse permission to proceed with an application for judicial review against the council’s decision to adopt the Local Plan 2035. We await notification from the court of the hearing date.

“We will not be commenting further at this stage.”

The council had previously said it was pleased with Mr Justice Dove’s decision and that the Court had “supported the democratic decision making processes within the council”.