Aireborough Neighbourhood Development Forum is challenging Leeds City Council's site allocations plan (SAP), a document which will govern land use in the city for years to come. The SAP was adopted by the council in July last year.
But such statutory challenges under section 113 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 (the Act) can only be brought by "a person aggrieved" and the city council argued that the forum did not fall within that category.
Proceedings under the Act have to be lodged within a strict six-week time limit and, had the council's argument succeeded, it would have been a knock-out blow to the forum's claim.
But Mrs Justice Lieven ruled that the forum is more than a "mere busybody" and, despite its unincorporated status, has a "sufficient interest" in the SPA to bring its case to court.
Wider public policy considerations, she ruled, were in favour of informal groups of objectors having a free-standing right to bring challenges both under the Act and by way of judicial review.
The forum was created in 2014 with the purpose of ensuring the good planning of the city's Aireborough neighbourhood. It has its own written constitution, a bank account, a steering group and an identifiable membership, the judge said.
It was designated as a neighbourhood forum under section 61F of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (TCPA) in 2014, but that five-year designation expired in July last year and has yet to be renewed. It was not designated when it launched its challenge, the court heard.
The city council, with the support of developers Avant Homes (England) Limited and Gallagher Estates Limited, argued that the unincorporated forum has no legal personality and lacks the capacity to mount proceedings under the Act.
Rejecting those arguments and finding that the forum has "standing" to pursue its case, the judge ruled: "An unincorporated association does have capacity to bring both a judicial review and a statutory challenge."
She added: "I take into account the wider public policy issues which have over time led to a more flexible approach to the issue of standing.
"Groups of residents or interested people may choose to group together to make representations, or attend inquiries, on a matter of interest and importance to them.
"This is particularly the case in matters concerning planning or the local environment, where the nature of the impact may often fall most directly on a group of people living in a particular area.
"It would be unfortunate if the law prevented them challenging the decision which they had participated in, in the same grouping as they had made the representations.
"The general policy position would support a finding that a claim can be brought by an unincorporated association."
It mattered not that the forum was not designated under the TCPA when it lodged its challenge, the judge ruled.
"The forum is a local body with a constitution and purposes relating to the good planning of Aireborough, whether or not it is designated under the TCPA.
"If it had never been designated then there would be little doubt that it was a person aggrieved within the meaning of the Act, and in my view that continues to apply now."
The judge concluded: "I reject the application that the forum does not have capacity to bring this claim."
The full hearing of the forum's statutory challenge is now set to take place in February.
Aireborough Neighbourhood Development Forum v Leeds City Council. Case Number: CO/3279/2019