St Helens Residents Association ends its legal challenge

With reluctance, the St Helens Residents Association has called a halt to its efforts to mount a judicial review of the decision of Hammersmith & Fulham Council to grant planning permission to the Imperial West development.

The Association raised funds from local residents and other supporters to reach the stage explained in previous posts (see below).  But the advice we received from a leading planning QC was that the grounds for legal challenge were not strong enough to gain ‘pre-event’ insurance against the full costs of what would have become a full-scale action in the High Court.

It was always going to be a David versus Goliath battle.  The council has set aside substantial sums in 2013/14 to fight off a series of legal challenges to its planning decisions on Shepherds Bush Market and the Earls Court development.  The council and Imperial College have deep pockets with which to defend their actions in the courts.  For a small residents association, every thousand pounds we raised was a struggle.  We were unable to proceed with the legal challenge unless we could insure against all costs further down the line, and this proved impossible.

One obstacle to our legal challenge was that the council learned from the High Court judgment which quashed as unlawful its Supplementary Development Plan for Shepherds Bush Market, in May 2012.  Since then the council has continued to delay the re-publication of the similar planning framework for the White City Opportunity Area, thereby avoiding making a further decision that could be challenged on similar grounds.

A draft of the White City Opportunity Area planning Framework was published for consultation two years ago, in April 2011It was meant to be revised in the light of comments from the public, and adopted by the council by the end of that year.

The document has yet to re-appear.  Yet it featured as ‘emerging policy’ in the original and (hastily revised) council committee reports in July 2012 recommending approval to the planning application for Imperial West.  Its also featured in the more recent report recommending approval to the Helical Bar/Aviva scheme on the former Dairy Crest site in Wood Lane (with its 32 storey tower to match that of Imperial’s).

The councils web page on the WCOAPF carries the message ‘We are currently working through the comments received and will consider each comment made on the draft. We will publish a schedule of changes that we propose to make to the document as a result of the comments and representations received. A second round of public consultation is scheduled for Spring 2013 for the next draft, which will respond to the comments received and will make any changes which the Council and the GLA consider appropriate.  

Two years in which to ‘work through comments’ suggests a leisurely pace within planning departments of the Council and the GLA.  The date for re-publication of the WCOAPF has been put back at least three times.  ‘Spring 2013′ is now turning to summer and there is still no sign of the revised document.   Hence our concern that the council has been delaying re-publication and further public consultation simply to avoid legal challenge to the status of the document.  When (and if) the revised document finally appears it will be an irrelevance as virtually all the major sites in the Opportunity Area will have had their future decided.

Meanwhile, Imperial College has declined to once again to provide documents relating to the financing of Imperial West.  We have written in a final attempt to get sensible answers to simple questions.  Failing a reply, we will be pursuing the issue with the Information Commissioner, who oversees Freedom of Information legislation.