High Court throws out challenge to Ashford local plan

A High Court judge has thrown out a landowner's attempt to get a Kent council's local plan declared unsound over its safeguarding of a former factory site for a new train depot, according to the authority.

The former Bombardier factory site in Beaver Lane, Ashford. Pic: Ashford Borough Council
The former Bombardier factory site in Beaver Lane, Ashford. Pic: Ashford Borough Council

The argument, over the former Bombardier factory site in Ashford, came after current landowner Bellamile argued that there were serious deficiencies in the evidence justifying the council’s decision to allocate the site as a new rail depot in the local plan.

The plan, adopted in February this year, "safeguarded" the site for two years to allow time for Network Rail to develop proposals for a stabling yard needed to incorporate additional Thameslink train services. But Bombardier is opposed to the plans.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government was named as an "interested party" in the dispute, given Bellamile’s contention that the government planning inspector had erred in concluding that the local plan was sound.

Bellamile, owned by north west developer Prescot Business Park, had also argued that inadequate reasons were given by the inspectors for safeguarding the whole site for railway uses for a period of up to two years, despite Network Rail’s application only covering part of it, and thus claimed the council’s decision to adopt the local plan was irrational.

The council said judge Elisabeth Laing had dismissed each of Bellamile’s arguments, and awarded £34,000 in legal costs against the landowner.

Network Rail last December submitted a planning application for the site which was approved in principle by the council this July.

In February, Bellamile’s solicitors, Simmons + Simmons, wrote to the council in response to the application detailing what it claimed were "serious deficiencies in the evidence base which informed the selection of the former bombardier site for the proposed development".

It added that "consequently the local land use policy basis for the development (policy S11a of the local plan 2030) is unsound" and that it would exhaust "all its legal rights and challenge options as site owner" before allowing any development to proceed.

Gerry Clarkson, leader of Ashford Borough Council, said he was "pleased" the local plan had withstood court examination.

He said: "I want to congratulate all the staff who have worked diligently and with great skill and professionalism in preparing the local plan, and in defending it in court."

Ashford’s local plan was adopted in February, three years after submission, with an annual housing target of just over 1,000 homes per year – lower than its previous plan, but higher than the 850 Ashford had initially argued for.

Bellamille’s solicitor, Simmons & Simmons, has been contacted for comment.

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