A TOP judge has thrown out a residents group’s case against a council for omitting key development sites from the area it oversees.
Mr Justice Supperstone ruled Wycombe District Council acted lawfully in deciding the RAF Daws Hill and Wycombe Sports Centre sites would not be part of Daws Hill Neighbourhood Forum’s Neighbourhood Area.
But the disappointed forum has written to the High Court stating it believes the judge has misinterpreted the Localism Act - which it calls a “dead letter” - and wishes to take the matter to the Court of Appeal.
In a statement, the forum said: “We feel frustrated by this judgement because it is clear that these two development sites in question are an integral part of our Neighbourhood Area - despite claims to the contrary.
“We have always acknowledged the 'strategic' nature of both sites, we believe the Localism Act intends for residents to have a greater say in developments in their area that most affect them.
“We also believe that there are sufficient safeguards in the Legislation - and in the processes surrounding Neighbourhood Planning - to ensure that our Neighbourhood Plan, when it came to fruition, would not thwart development of an appropriate quantum and mix at both sites.
“Once built-out, both sites will be core to the Daws Hill area and will have a major impact on the bigger Daws Hill Neighbourhood Area in terms of infrastructure, traffic, pollution and the Chiltern Hills.
“As the legislation stands, we feel it is a dead letter.
“It cannot be right to grant new powers to residents who are keen to be involved and make use of them, but then allow LPA's to arbitrarily take those away because they want to keep control.
“We urge the Secretary of State to intervene to make the intent of the new Localism Act clear for other Neighbourhood Forum facing the same situation.”
Residents pulled the authority up before the High Court for February’s two-day Judicial Review over the council’s decision made in September.
They argued the council was riding roughshod over the Government’s flagship Localism Act by removing the only two key development sites that would affect them.
But WDC refuted the claim, stating it used the discretion the Act provides to rule the two sites were strategic to council policies and went well beyond the local interests represented by the forum.
The Daws Hill area - A: Wycombe Sports Centre B: RAF Daws Hill.
Upholding the council’s decision, Mr Justice Supperstone said: “The discretion given to the authority is a broad one.
“The exercise of discretion turns on the specific factual and policy matrix that exists in the individual case at the time the determination is made.
“In my judgment, the council properly had regard to the specific circumstances that existed at the time when the decision was made to designate a Neighbourhood Area which excluded the RAF Daws Hill site and the Handy Cross Sports Centre site.
“None of the grounds of challenge to the decision taken by the council in this case have been made out.”
In a statement the council said it acted in “good faith” and sought legal advice before it took its decision to omit the two disputed sites.
The authority added it was committed to working with, and listening to the Daws Hill Neighbourhood Forum and other residents groups.
Councillor Hugh McCarthy, Cabinet Member for Planning and Sustainability, said: “This has been a challenging episode for all concerned as it is such a new and untested area of law.
“The judge’s decision is important as it will help local councils and communities work within the spirit and intention of the legislation.
“We are pleased the judge has confirmed that issues such as those which influenced the council’s decision were right and proper to take into account.”
Taylor Wimpy owns the now decommissioned RAF base and is preparing a planning application for a new housing development.
The council has already approved an outline planning application for a new sports centre at Handy Cross. The project will also include a hotel, office blocks and a coachway park-and-ride.
The case marks the first legal test of the Localism Act, which is meant to empower local groups.