RESIDENTS are confident a judge will overturn a controversial council decision following a landmark hearing in the High Court.
The Daws Hill Neighbourhood Forum urged Mr Justice Supperstone to quash Wycombe District Council’s decision to remove RAF Daws Hill and Handy Cross sports centre sites from its Neighbourhood Area.
The Judicial Review held at the High Court last week is being seen as the first major test of the flagship Localism Act 2011, which is meant to empower neighbourhood groups to shape the future of their areas.
DHNF’s Ken Tyson told the BFP residents are optimistic the court will reverse WDC’s decision and the forum will be given the chance to play a key role in the planning and development of the two disputed sites.
He said: “I’m confident and optimistic. I think the judge acknowledged that the Localism Act needs to be clarified.
“I think our QC put our case very strongly, putting an emphasis on purpose, principles and concepts of the act and that came across well.
“Planning has changed as a result of the act and it has translated power and influence to shape, influence and modify planning considerations to neighbourhoods – the judge appeared to be taking some of these points.
“That’s not to say he agrees and there wasn’t counter arguments, but there was empathy there and he accepted there is some ambiguity and some value in getting some clarity through the Judicial Review.
Paul Stinchcombe QC, appearing for DHNF, asked the High Court to rule the council's decision, made in September 2012, to remove the sites was unlawful.
He accused the council of flouting the Government's clear intention that the 2011 Act should be used to give local people "never hitherto known" powers to shape development and growth in their area.
He told Mr Justice Supperstone WDC was in effect wrongly telling the forum: “These sites are too important for you to get your mitts on” despite council documents acknowledging that both RAF Daws Hill and Handy Cross were a key part of the area and not two “isolated islands”.
He added: “A rhetorical question; what would be the point of the Localism Act and Neighbourhood Planning if councils were able to simply exclude from a Neighbourhood Forum’s remit the most important development sites? It would be a dead letter.
“[Allowing the decision to stand] would be a green light to local authorities to prevent forums from undertaking Neighbourhood Planning on developments marked for sites of strategic importance.”
Taylor Wimpy owns the now decommissioned RAF base and is preparing a planning application for a new housing development, while the council wants to build a new sports centre, coachway park and ride, hotel and office facilities at Handy Cross.
WDC argued both "are strategic sites in terms of the council's planning policies and go well beyond the local interests represented by the forum".
The council's QC, Suzanne Ornsby, told the High Court the authority had acted in accordance with the 2011 Act’s legislation in making its decision to reduce the area the forum had applied for.
She said: "Parliament has given the local authority a pretty wide discretion and that is perfectly sensible and appropriate.
“It is perfectly appropriate, in the light of its overall town and country planning responsibilities, that it should have a fairly wide discretion to decide - as plan maker and decision taker - whether or not an area applied for in order to promote a neighbourhood plan is appropriate, using all the knowledge it possesses as local planning authority to ensure that its area is properly planned in the public interest."
Mr Justice Supperstone is expected to hand down his ruling within the next two weeks.