Judge dismisses judicial review over Croydon retail revamp

Plans for the regeneration of Croydon's prime shopping area have been boosted after a High Court judge ruled that questions relating to the overall viability of the scheme would not have been a good reason to refuse planning consent.

Croydon: artist's impression of the redeveloped shopping centre
Croydon: artist's impression of the redeveloped shopping centre

However, objectors will have another chance to block the proposals when a planning inspector considers whether to allow a compulsory purchase order (CPO) to allow work to commence.

The project is a joint venture between shopping centre giant, Westfield Europe Limited, and retail property specialists, Hammerson UK Properties Plc.

They together indirectly own the headlease of the Whitgift Centre and are pursuing the plans through developer, Croydon Limited Partnership (CLP).

The London Borough of Croydon granted outline planning consent in February this year.

That was despite fierce objections from the Whitgift Trust, which controls the conservation area at the heart of the controversial plans.

The Trust questions whether the proposals - which include a substantial residential development - are viable and whether a reasonable proportion of affordable homes can be delivered.

The council began CPO proceedings in April and a public inquiry before a planning inspector is due to be heard early next year.

In mounting a judicial review challenge to the planning permission, the trust argued that the decision-making process was procedurally flawed.

Before consent was granted, CLP had commissioned accountancy firm Deloitte to consider the overall viability of the scheme, but its report was subject to a confidentiality agreement.

In an earlier report in April last year, consultancy BNP Paribas had stated its opinion that the residential element of the scheme was unviable.

It advised that a full assessment should be carried out, looking at the whole scheme, rather than the residential element in isolation.

The council's director planning had reported that the level of 50 per cent affordable housing contained in the Croydon Local Plan was not achievable.

However, he was satisfied that planning obligations entered into would secure 15 per cent affordable housing and that that met the requirements of the Croydon Opportunity Area Planning Framework.

The trust argued in court, amongst other things, that its inability to see the Deloitte report in advance of the planning committee's decision had prevented it from making its objections in a focused manner.

Committee members also had not seen the full text of the confidential report and this meant they did not have 'the full picture', the trust claimed. There was also said to have been a failure to disclose a financial appraisal of the scheme.

But in dismissing the challenge Mr Justice Collins found that the trust had been given a fair chance to make its objections and noted that it would, in any event, have a fresh opportunity to put its case at the CPO inquiry next year.

All relevant information would be available at that inquiry; the viability and deliverability of the scheme would have to be comprehensively demonstrated by the developers and the trust's rights would be fully protected, the judge said.

In those circumstances, questions relating to the overall viability of the scheme would not have been a good reason to refuse outline planning consent, he ruled.

The trust's further argument that the development site was 'edge of centre', and that the sequential approach should therefore have been followed, were "entirely artificial", the judge said.

The judge said the Whitgift Centre lies outside the retail heart of Croydon and that to require the application of the sequential test would have been "an entirely futile exercise" that could have made no difference to the outcome.

"This was a comprehensive scheme and it made no difference whether it was to be regarded as such or as part of an incremental development," he concluded.

Equiom (Isle of Man) Limited & Ors v London Borough of Croydon. Case Number: CO/1205/2014

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