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Watercress Farm Development Receives Go-Ahead

An attempt by an environmental campaigner to overturn planning permission granted for substantial structural improvements to a watercress farm has failed after the High Court rejected arguments that planners misunderstood and misapplied their powers, creating an opportunity for intensification of commercial activities on the site.

The local authority had granted consent for major changes to the lay-out of the farm as well as for new intake and despatch bays and for the demolition and replacement of an existing workshop. Objections to the proposals were made on environmental grounds, including concerns that the development would lead to pollution of local rivers and increased van and lorry traffic on local roads.

In dismissing a campaigner’s judicial review challenge to the plans, the High Court rejected arguments that a condition attached to the consent was insufficient to prevent intensification of potentially harmful activities on the site. The claimant’s plea that a planning officer had given misleading legal advice to councillors with the result that they misunderstood their role was also rejected. The court emphasised that the officer’s report was ‘not to be construed as if it were a statute.’

The campaigner had argued that the council failed to consider all the potential effects of the development, including indirect and cumulative impacts, as required by the Town and Country Planning (EIA) Regulations 1999. However, the court concluded that the council had been entitled to rely on an environment statement produced by the developer as well as its repeated assertions that the development would not lead to any increase in production or in any adverse environmental effects.

The developer had conceded that the change of the site’s use to a mixed agricultural and industrial use, with the industrial element predominant, would have required a full environmental impact assessment. However, the court ruled that, as that change of use had taken place no later than the year 2000, it was immune from enforcement action by operation of section 171B of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.