High Court issues first ever injunction to block neighbourhood plan referendum

The High Court has issued the first ever injunction of its kind to prevent a neighbourhood plan in Somerset from proceeding to a local referendum next week in order to allow a developer to mount a legal challenge against the document.

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

Residents of Norton St Philip in Somerset were due to cast their votes on the Norton St Philip Neighbourhood Plan on October 17.

The move follows Mendip District Council's decision last month to accept the recommendations of an inspector and allow the plan to proceed to referendum.

But property developers, Lochailort Investments Limited, rushed to court earlier this week demanding that the referendum be stopped.

And yesterday, Mrs Justice Steyn ordered that the poll be put off until after Lochailort can mount a legal challenge.

Lochailort says the plan as currently drafted does not meet the conditions set out in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

The company particularly objects to the plan's designation of local green spaces (LGSs) to be protected from future development.

LGSs are a means by which communities can identify and protect green areas of particular importance to them.

But Lochailort says neither the examiner nor the council considered whether the LGS designations are consistent with sustainable development in the area.

LGSs, the company argues, are not designed to "put a stop to the organic growth of towns and villages, which would be contrary to national policy".

And the NPPF makes plain that LGS designations must "complement investment in sufficient homes, jobs and other essential services".

Lochailort is in the process of mounting a judicial review challenge to the neighbourhood plan, said the judge.

And the company was adamant that no local referendum should be held pending the outcome of that case.

Granting an interim injunction, the judge ruled that the developer has "seriously arguable" grounds for complaint about the plan in its current form.

Allowing the referendum to go ahead when Lochailort had an extant legal challenge would cause "cost, disruption and uncertainty".

If Lochailort's arguments that the plan is unlawful succeed, any referendum result would in any event be overturned, she added.

"It would cause greater confusion amongst voters if a referendum result were to be quashed...than if it were postponed pending a legal challenge."

Mrs Justice Steyn acknowledged that this was the first time that an injunction had been granted postponing a local neighbourhood plan referendum.

R on the Application of Lochailort Investments Limited v Mendip District Council. Case Number: QB2019001302

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