RESIDENTS face an anxious wait to find out if they have succeeded in overturning a High Court ruling over two major development sites.
Judges sitting in the Court of Appeal decided to reserve judgement in the case between the Daws Hill Neighbourhood Forum and Wycombe District Council.
The residents group took the council to court over WDC’s decision to remove Handy Cross and RAF Daws Hill from its designated area.
Mr Justice Supperstone threw out the forum’s claim in the High Court in March but residents took the case a stage further on appeal.
Three of the country’s leading judges have been hearing submissions from both parties and developer Taylor Wimpey.
DHNF say the council has ridden roughshod over new legislation introduced by the Government to give more power to communities over planning issues in their areas.
Residents argued that, in designating them a forum, WDC wrongly excluded from their Neighbourhood Area the only two major sites for development that might affect them.
Paul Stinchcombe QC, putting the forum's case, said the court had to decide whether the council could exclude "important development sites" from a Neighbourhood Area under the Neighbourhood Planning scheme introduced in 2011 by the coalition Government’s Localism Act.
Mr Justice Supperstone, he argued, wrongly placed councils rather than neighbourhoods in the "driving seat" of neighbourhood planning and allows them to retain exclusive control over development sites.
Mr Stinchcombe added: “In the claimants' submission, such an outcome is completely contrary to the intention of Parliament when legislating to enact neighbourhood planning and would defeat the very purpose of the legislation.”
But Suzanne Ornsby QC for WDC said: “It is the council’s case, accepted by Mr Justice Supperstone, that the neighbourhood provisions confer a broad discretion upon the council to determine what bodies are appropriate for forum designation and, if so, which area within that applied for by that forum, is appropriate for neighbourhood planning.
“The provisions specifically provide for the reduction in the neighbourhood area sought in the exercise of that discretion.
“In particular, in the exercise of that broad discretion and in order to reach a sensible judgement as to which area is appropriate for neighbourhood planning it is submitted that it is reasonable, sensible and necessary, for the designating authority to take into account the policy and factual matrix that exists at the time the application is made in so far as it relates to the area in question because inevitably those matters inform the exercise of that discretion and the judgement reached.
“Therefore the council, in exercising its discretion that the appropriate neighbourhood area was less than that applied for, having taken into account the policy and factual matrix that existed at the time, acted fully in accordance with the statutory provisions and their purpose.”
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.
Taylor Wimpey's proposals for 362 houses, 79 apartments, nine industrial units, a community centre, Air Training Corps Base and a bus hub have also been given the green light by WDC.
The case marks the first legal test of the Localism Act, which is meant to empower local groups.