Buckingham Town Council may seek court ruling over care home

The Old Gaol,Buckingham
The Old Gaol,Buckingham

At the Buckingham Town council planning committee meeting on Monday 2 July, councillors discussed the option of taking Aylesbury Vale District Council (AVDC) to the High Court over the proposed Grand Junction care home in Cornwalls Meadow.

The town council believes that their neighbourhood development plan, which cost around £80,000 of tax payers money and received a 91.4% approval in a referendum, is being unlawfully dismissed and unfairly interpreted by AVDC.

Their objection is focussed on a comment made by Susan Kitchen, corporate planning officer for AVDC, at the district council’s strategic development management committee (SDMC) meeting on the 20 June:

“Interpretation isn’t a matter of law, it’s a matter of judgement for you as the decision makers to consider.”

Present at the town council’s meeting on Monday was Dr David Saunders. Though not qualified in town planning or law, as he openly declared, he was there as an advisor to the council regarding what could be done to defend their neighbourhood plan.

Dr Saunders first cited a case involving Canterbury City council that concluded just 10 days ago, on 26 June. A planning decision was overturned in this case on the strength of a neighbourhood development plan. The ruling included the following statement:

“It is now well established that the proper interpretation of a policy in the development plan is a question of law for the court.”

As was reported last week, AVDC believes that the Buckingham Neighbourhood Development Plan (BNDP) is not specific enough to preclude the building of a care home, as it merely states that “a car park would be supported on this site.”

However, Dr Saunders believes a precedence has been set to counter this by a Supreme Court ruling from 2012 involving Tesco versus Dundee City council. Lord Reed stated:

“Planning authorities do not live in the world of Humpty Dumpty. They cannot make the development plan mean whatever they would like it to mean.”

Dr Saunders went on to say that the Supreme Court decision said:

“You’re not allowed to make strict reading of the words – you are meant to look at the objectives of the plan.”

However, at the time of writing, this could not be found in the relevant court documents.

On the likely outcome of a court case, Dr Saunders summarised:

“I think it is highly likely to be successful.”

The first step in the process is for BTC to ask the Secretary of State to ‘call in’ the planning application.

Since the meeting on Monday, the council has now unanimously agreed to take this action. It is thought however that this will not be successful on the grounds that the case is not one of national importance.

Only once this process has failed and the district council have approved the plans, can a judicial review be sort.

As was acknowledged at the meeting, this would be a huge step to take, with serious financial implications. Indeed, the costs paid by the defendant in the case in Canterbury 10 days ago were £19,218.

Would you support the town council going to the High Court over plans to build a care home on Cornwalls Meadow? Do you think this is a case they could win?

Please email us your thoughts.