Harwich: Bathside Bay bid hits legal obstacle
Councillors have hit out at a judge’s decision to allow a legal challenge to plans for a multi-million pound container port at Bathside Bay.
Jenni Meredith, part of the Residents Against Port Expansion (RAPE) group, was yesterday given permission to take her case to the Court of Appeal by Lord Justice Patten on three of her four grounds.
RAPE say planning permission granted by Tendring District Council (TDC) in February for the reclamation of Bathside Bay, Harwich, for the development of a port and a small harbour will destroy protected wetland.
The proposed £300million-plus development would see a deep-sea container port built at the site with rail and road links to the rest of the country.
Hope for the scheme’s go-ahead was boosted last month with Government approval for Assisted Area Status for Harwich, allowing firms access to grants for expansion.
Hutchison Ports (UK) Ltd first applied for permission for the development in 2003, which was secured from the then Labour government three years later. In 2010 Hutchison applied to extend the time limit from 2016 to 2021. This was approved by TDC in February 2013.
Lord Justice Patten agreed Mrs Meredith’s claims that TDC did not properly consider whether “overriding public interest” continued to exist allowing the “destruction” of a protected site to be justified, as grounds for appeal.
He said: “The planning committee’s decision, the effect of which is to destroy or considerably impact a European Site of Interest, should arguably have been based on compelling evidence of an immediate need or one likely to be fulfilled within the life of the planning permission.
“The fact the prior planning permissions lasted 10 years without development being commenced, it seems there is at least an arguable case they had no such material in front of them so either asked themselves the wrong question or came to a conclusion which was not open to them on the evidence.”
He also said claims TDC failed to properly interpret the National Planning Policy Framework could be explored further.
The matter will now go to a full hearing at the Court of Appeal. The judge also limited Mrs Meredith’s liability to pay TDC’s legal costs in the event of defeat to only £2,500.
Carlo Guglielmi, TDC’s councillor for planning, said: “It is very disappointing and the real slap in the face is he has limited her liability for costs. It’s absolutely disgraceful.
“In this day and age when a government is doing all it can to stop obstacles in the course of economic growth we have a judiciary treating us in this dreadful manner.
“The grounds are very thin and though I respect the judge’s decision I very much hope when it goes higher up they will see sense.”
Council leader Mick Page added: “Bathside Bay is one of my projects as I consider Harwich to be the jewel in the crown for Tendring.
“Anything which will delay the economic boost is not welcomed and the Assisted Area Status gives us the impetus to more forward very fast. This scheme should allow us to achieve jobs and prosperity for the area.”