The High Court has dismissed all claims made by housebuilders Barratt Homes and Wainhomes against the Tattenhall Neighbourhood Plan.
A dispute between Cheshire West & Chester Council and the housebuilders has been ongoing since September 2013, when the Council's Executive approved the preliminary Tattenhall & District Neighbourhood Plan and recommended it proceed to referendum. The group contended that the plan was flawed on a number of grounds and questioned the impartiality of the independent examiner, Nigel McGurk, on whose report the Council had based its decision.
In a judgment handed down at London's Royal Courts of Justice on Friday, Justice Supperstone ruled that he did not consider that the "fair minded and informed observer having considered the relevant facts would conclude that there was a real possibility that Mr McGurk was biased."
He found that none of the grounds of Judicial Review challenge to the decision of Cheshire West & Chester's Executive to approve the draft plan should succeed and dismissed the claims.
Cllr Mike Jones, leader of CWAC, said: "We welcome the judge's findings which are undoubted endorsement of the processes employed in the creation of the Tattenhall Neighbourhood Plan.
"This decision will be greeted with delight in the village of Tattenhall by a community which worked so hard and showed such unbelievable commitment in creating the plan."
On 4 September 2013 the independent examiner's report was considered at a meeting of the Cheshire West and Chester Council Executive. At the meeting it was decided that minor modifications should be made to the Tattenhall and District Neighbourhood Plan, as set out in the examiner's report, and proceed through referendum.
The plan was passed with 905 votes to 38, with a 51.86% turnout of the 1,822 eligible voters.
Lawyers acting on behalf of Taylor Wimpey, Barratt Homes and Wainhomes sent CWAC a Letter Before Claim under Judicial Review pre-action protocols in October 2013, based on a number of technical grounds and questioning the impartiality of the independent examiner Nigel McGurk, who the group claimed was an executive director of Himor Land at the time of the examination. Taylor Wimpey withdrew before the proceedings went to High Court.
Taylor Wimpey had applied to build 110 homes at Chester Road, Wainhomes Developments 137 homes on land at Greenlands and Barratts 68 homes on land opposite Brookhall Cottages. Wainhomes and Himor are both owned by Bill Ainscough but have separate management.
The Tattenhall Neighbourhood Plan advocated that "large scale, inappropriate development along existing village boundaries will not be supported by the community". The plan suggested that future development be limited to housing groups of no more than 30 units.
The Secretary Of State has postponed a decision on appeals from the three developers against the council's rejection of their planning applications.
CWAC will also be pressing examiner Dr Charles Mynors to reopen his hearing into the Winsford Neighbourhood Plan, adjourned in January until the outcome of the legal challenge to the Tattenhall Neighbourhood Plan was known.
Matthew Morris, estate manager at Bolesworth Estate which is one of the largest landowners in Tattenhall, told Place North West that it had been a challenging period for all concerned but that the community and Parish Councillors "deserved huge respect" for all of their efforts in putting together the Neighbourhood Plan. He said: "The Judicial Review has added an element of uncertainty to the outcome of many scheme applications, and local councillors have understandably been unable to engage properly with developers due to the legal process.
"Now that the claims have been dismissed, we want to get on with delivering the key aspirations contained within the Neighbourhood Plan. There are multitudes of opportunities for growth within it, and it is time to stop defending the document and start interpreting it in practice. There are some upcoming planning applications from us that will be amongst the first real tests for the Plan, and we remain committed to working with the Parish Council in helping to deliver many of the objectives they have set out."