New planning court goes into battle

A legal fight over whether land near York should be registered as the site of an important battle in the Norman Conquest of 1066 and thus protected from development has been heard by the new specialist planning court - its first case since its launch last week.

London's Royal Courts of Justice
London's Royal Courts of Justice

The government has created the new specialised planning court, with dedicated judges, in order to speed up the legal process in respect of planning and environmental challenges.

Sitting in London, Mr Justice Lindblom became the first judge to sit in the Planning Court, where he gave the go-ahead for a legal claim in which it is alleged that conservation body English Heritage was wrong not to declare a village site near York as the site of the historic Battle of Fulford.

Charles "Chas" Jones, who lives in Oxfordshire, has carried out archaeological works since 1988 on what he believes was the Fulford battlefield site.

He is asking the judge to order English Heritage to reconsider its decisions in November 2012 and July 2013 not to add the site to its Battlefield Register, alongside the sites of other famous 1066 battles of Hastings and Stamford Bridge.

He ultimately hopes to secure a registration which would thwart plans to build 655 homes on the 34-hectare site alongside an ancient water course known as Germany Beck in Fulford, near York.

Last December, Fulford Parish Council failed in a separate claim in which it attacked City of York Council's decision to grant planning permission to developers Persimmon Homes and Hogg Builders (York) to build 655 homes there.

The parish council is currently pursuing an appeal against that decision.

In this action, Jones said that the Battle of Fulford was the first major battle of 1066, and the first of three that formed a pivotal turning point in British history.

He claims that his research, culminating in his publication of "Finding Fulford - The search for the first battle of 1066" establishes the site as the most likely one for the historic battle.

However, English Heritage took the view that, while Germany Beck was the most likely site, the archaeological and other evidence was "insufficiently conclusive to make this a secure identification".

In doing so, Jones alleges that English Heritage applied the wrong test, and applied too high a threshold to be met for such an early battlefield.

He maintains that the finding it was the "most likely" site was enough to justify a registration.

He also claims that English Heritage wrongly took into account the grant of outline planning permission for development, and the possibility that that might expose it to a compensation claim from the developer.

Giving Jones the go-ahead to challenge that decision at a full hearing, the judge said: "I am satisfied that the principal ground of the claim is arguable.

"It may well be said that, ultimately, this was a question of judgment for English Heritage. It was. But the question for the court here, however, is whether in exercising that judgment, English Heritage has properly interpreted and applied its own selection guidance for the designation of battlefields. In my view it is arguable that that was not done."

He said he was "less impressed" by Jones' second claim, but was not prepared to find it unarguable.

He said: "The real focus of this case is that relating to the application of the relevant guidance to the particular circumstances of this case and the question of whether there is a legal error as distinct from a difference of view on a matter of judgment."

But he added: "It may be that English Heritage has a complete and cogent answer to the complaint that has been made."

Jones v English Heritage. Case Number: CO/1932/2013

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