Newmarket: Housing strategy in home of horse racing ‘legally flawed’
A CONTROVERSIAL housing strategy which critics claimed threatened Newmarket’s position as “the capital of the horse racing industry” has been declared legally flawed by the High Court.
Leading names in the racing world asked a judge to quash a decision to adopt Forest Heath District Council’s Core Strategy Development Plan, arguing it could destroy the unique, horse-friendly character of the Suffolk town.
Mr Justice Collins, sitting in London, allowed the challenge and ruled that, in adopting the new strategy, there had been a failure to comply with an EU planning directive.
The judge quashed the proposed central housing policy of the core strategy as it affects Newmarket.
He ruled there had been a failure to comply with the relevant directive because a strategic environmental assessment did not contain all the information it should have done.
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As a result, it was not possible for those consulted over the proposals to know the reasons for rejecting any alternatives to the policy as it affected Newmarket, said the judge.
His ruling was a blow to Forest Heath District Council, which adopted the new housing strategy in May last year. The council was refused permission to appeal.
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It was also a blow to Lord Derby, whose family gave its name to the world’s most famous flat race. He had supported the new strategy and controversially applied for permission for 1,200 new homes on his Hatchfield Farm property north-east of Newmarket.
His planning application was refused, but the appeal process is continuing and could be affected by Friday’s High Court decision.
The ruling was a victory for the Save Historic Newmarket Ltd (SHNL) campaign group. The group was supported by the Jockey Club, auctioneer Tattersalls, commentators Sir Peter O’Sullevan and Clare Balding and other leading figures in the racing world who claimed the proposed urban development would ultimately lead to the demise of Newmarket as a racing centre.
A spokeswoman for the council said: “The council is understandably disappointed with the ruling, as the Core Strategy of Forest Heath District Council’s Local Development Framework represents five years of hard work and consultation.
“However, we welcome the clarity given by the judgement and that, in relation to ground two of the claim on potential prejudice to the community, the Judge did not find any procedural defect. “Today’s decision will mean more delay for development plans across the whole of Forest Heath. “The council will need to reassess how it distributes its housing requirement, which remains at 10,100 until 2031, across the district.
“What is important is that positive dialogue is established with all our communities to discuss and decide how the future planning of the district can now move forward again, so that much needed homes and jobs can be secured.
“In Newmarket, options for growth will continue to recognise the international importance of the horse racingindustry and we will welcome the ongoing involvement of the racing industry in that.
“The ruling was on a narrow technical point of European law.
“The processes undertaken by Forest Heath to deliver and test its core strategy were understood to be best practice and indeed, are the agreed common practice across all Suffolk authorities.
“We believed the work we had undertaken on environmental assessment was presented in the best possible and most accessible way. Indeed, an independent Government inspector had previously ruled that the core strategy is sound and a proper planning document for the district.
“How plans are prepared in the future will need to take account of both today’s judgement and also the emerging changes in the Coalition Government’s planning legislation and the future requirements of the Localism Bill, as to how best to engage communities in shaping their future growth.”
Libreral Democrat leader on the council Tim Huggan said: “The Liberal Democrat group on Forest Heath has consistently opposed the Local Development strategy as rushed, lacking in local consultation and flawed in its vision for Forest Heath.
“The fact that the racing lobby have now won in the High Court and at the same time cost local taxpayers tens of thousands of pounds in legal fees to prove the point fills me with sadness in his time of cuts to local services and was entirely avoidable.”