Case Law >> No more 'horsing around'

17th May 2011


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  • EU

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IEMA

Newmarket Town Council's development plans halted over inadequate environmental report assessing the possible impact on local horse-racing industry

In Save Historic Newmarket Ltd v Forest Heath District Council, the claimant issued proceedings pursuant to the Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, s.113 seeking to quash the council’s core strategy development plan. The successful claimant was concerned by the potentially serious adverse impact that a 20-year urban mixed-use development in Newmarket would have on the world-renowned local horse-racing industry.

The Act requires that the Local Development Framework (of which the core strategy is a component) must conform to the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive (2001/42/EC) (SEA Directive). The Directive aims to “contribute to the integration of environmental considerations into the preparation and adoption of plans and programmes with a view to permitting sustainable development”.

The central ground of challenge was that the council’s core strategy had been adopted in breach of the SEA Directive and the associated Environmental Assessment of Plans and Programmes Regulations 2004. The claimant argued that the requirement to assess the effects of certain plans and programmes on the environment had not been met, and that the “environmental report” accompanying the draft plan was inadequate.

Justice Collins held that: “It was not possible for the consultees to know from [the final report accompanying the proposed core strategy] what were the reasons for rejecting any alternatives to the urban development where it was proposed or to know why the increase in residential development made no difference.” Consequently, the policies in relation to the urban extension were quashed.

This judgment applies the SEA Directive requirements to development plan documents and clarifies how they are to be met. In submitting strategic environmental assessments, local authorities should:

  • base environmental reports on proper information and cover all the potential effects of the plan in question;
  • ensure that the treatment and rejection of alternative policies and sites is adequately explained and summarised and that those reasons are still valid; and
  • identify earlier material relied upon in the report.

It is 10 years since the SEA Directive was created and, unless local authorities have properly resourced their departments to consider the issues it raises, decisions such as this are likely to increase pressure on development decisions that fail to consider sustainability issues properly.

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