High Court dismisses challenge to green belt Legoland expansion consent

A High Court judge has dismissed a legal challenge against the expansion of the Legoland resort in the Berkshire green belt, ruling that council members' reasons to approve - against a recommendation to refuse from planners - were "adequate and intelligible".

Legoland Windsor (pic:  Henry Burrows, Flickr)
Legoland Windsor (pic: Henry Burrows, Flickr)

Legoland sits within the green belt and is bordered on three sides by the protected woodland of Windsor Great Park, which is home to Britain's largest population of ancient oak trees.

One of the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead's own planning officers advised against granting the planning permissions sought by Legoland Windsor Park Limited.

But the council's planning committee went its own way in May last year and resolved to grant four full planning consents and four outline permissions.

John Hudson, chairman of campaign group the Campaign to Protect Rural England’s Berkshire branch, challenged the decision at London's High Court.

Mr Justice Lang, agreed that there had been a failure to carry out an "appropriate assessment" of the development's impact on "veteran trees".

However, she ruled that the failure to do so was highly unlikely to have affected the committee's decision and upheld the planning permissions.

Legoland's plans include the erection of 65 permanent semi-detached lodges, up to 300 units of visitor accommodation and associated facilities.

The holiday village will extend beyond the current resort into an area currently occupied by St Leonard's Farm and open countryside.

The site is bordered by the Windsor Forest and Great Park Site of Special Scientific Interest and Special Area of Conservation (SAC).

The judge said the reason for the SAC designation is that the area has "the largest number of veteran oaks in Britain and probably in Europe".

The planning officer recommended refusal of Legoland's applications on the basis that the development would be "inappropriate" in the green belt.

He said it would involve "significant encroachment into the countryside" and would harm "significant trees".

But the planning committee rejected his advice and ruled that the economic benefits of the development "clearly outweighed" any harm to the green belt.

The committee said there were "very special circumstances" justifying approval of Legoland's proposals.

The council granted planning permission on April 10 this year, almost a year after the committee's resolution.

The time lag largely arose whilst the secretary of state for housing, communities and local government considered whether or not to 'call in' the planning applications for his own determination. In the end, he decided not to do so.

Dismissing Hudson's challenge earlier this week, the judge rejected arguments that the council should have looked again at the planning committee's decision in the light of an intervening shift in government policy.

The July 2018 edition of the National Planning Policy Framework states that developments which would harm veteran trees will only be countenanced for "wholly exceptional reasons."

But Mrs Justice Lang said the policy change post-dated the committee's decision and "could not have led to a different conclusion."

The committee's reasons for its decision could be found in a transcript of the meeting and were "adequate and intelligible", she added.

The council accepted that it should have performed an appropriate assessment of the impact of Legoland's proposals on the SAC.

But the judge said Legoland had itself "carried out extensive, detailed assessments" and would put in place "mitigation measures" to protect veteran trees.

Environment watchdog Natural England had been consulted and had no objection to the proposals, "subject to appropriate mitigation being secured".

The plans were the focus of "extensive consultation" and the approach taken by Legoland, Natural England and the council "was consistent with the requirements of the Habitats Directive."

The judge concluded that it was "highly likely that the outcome would not have been substantially different" had an appropriate assessment been carried out.

The planning permissions and outline planning permissions were upheld.

R on the Application of Hudson v Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead. Case Number: CO/2118/2019

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