…But the Council’s contractors refuse to halt building works!
The High Court has today (16 January) ruled that Elmbridge Borough Council’s scheme to develop a ‘sports hub’ at Waterside Drive by the Thames in Walton, was unlawful. The site is a large area (14 Ha) of Green Belt land which used to consist of a small playing field for Walton Casuals FC, a large grassed area, and scrub, overlying an old landfill site. The Council planned to ‘remediate’ the landfill site and redevelop this open space with a facility for three private clubs including artificial playing fields, a stadium, an athletics track and floodlighting. The entire site was to be enclosed by high fencing to prevent public access to the grounds, with a pathway for dog walkers around the perimeter fence. This was part of a grand scheme so as to be able to sell off the Walton and Hersham FC ground and athletics track at Stompond Lane, Walton, for profitable housing.
The judicial review case was brought by Amanda Boot, a resident across the Thames in Sunbury, who was concerned about the effects on her and other residents’ views, as well as noise and light pollution. The basic rule for development in Green Belt is that it should be not be ‘inappropriate’, which means not causing ‘harm to openness’. Andrew Parkinson, counsel for Ms Boot, argued that that the Council had unlawfully decided when granting itself planning permission that there was harm to openness but that the harm was acceptable. Mr Justice Supperstone agreed that this was an unlawful approach and the matter must be re-determined.
Ms Boot said: “I am so pleased that the judge saw fit to rule in our favour on the grounds of this being inappropriate and harmful development in the Green Belt. A huge thank-you to Richard Buxton and his legal team and to everyone else who supported us through CrowdJustice.”
Andy Smith, Surrey Branch Director of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said “CPRE has supported the local campaign against this development since 2015, so we are delighted with today’s judgment. It is vital that we oppose unwanted, unnecessary and inappropriate developments like this, especially when they threaten the openness of the Green Belt and destroy local tranquility. The fact that Elmbridge Council gave itself permission for this Sports Hub development, disregarding Green Belt planning constraints, was a major concern for CPRE and we are pleased that the High Court judgment reflects this.”
Alan Smith, speaking on behalf of Walton and Hersham Football Club, which the Council is trying to evict from its ground at Stompond Lane, said: “This result shows just how ill-thought out the Council’s plans are for sports in Walton and how wrong it is to want to sell off our ground for housing. We and our supporters want to stay put and that is far better for residents and the various other clubs affected. In any case the Council cannot now guarantee us moving to an equivalent ground as required by Sport England.”
The Council started the work knowing that a challenge was being bought and continued with it even after the High Court granted permission to bring the claim. Remarkably, the Council has even now refused to stop work on the development site despite the fact that it now has no planning permission. Richard Buxton, the solicitor for Amanda Boot, said: “In 25 years’ experience of these types of case I have never had any defendant, let alone a council, not immediately abide by a ruling of the High Court like this. The conduct is appalling, offensive to law-abiding citizens, and I can but trust that members of Elmbridge Council will call for an immediate halt to the development when they meet in committee shortly.”
If the Council fails to call a halt to the development, there will be a further hearing in the Court.