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Football Stadium Loses Out to Business Park in Public Funding Dispute

FootballThe constraints on public expenditure are such that a government grant in respect of one project is frequently met by objections by the promoters of another. That was certainly so in a High Court case in which a choice had to be made between furthering plans for either a business park or a football stadium.

A local enterprise partnership (LEP) made up of a consortium of three local councils decided to award a £1.9 million grant to one of them to enable construction of a road junction. The works were intended to facilitate development of a business park. The grant was, however, greeted with dismay by a professional football club which had proposed a more southerly location for the junction in order to further its plans to build a new stadium.

In challenging the LEP’s decision by way of judicial review, the club argued that no adequate consideration had been given to the respective economic benefits of each proposal, or the timescale within which such benefits would be likely to be delivered. The award was also said to be infected by procedural unfairness in that the club had not been informed in advance of the detail of the rival proposal.

In dismissing the club’s case, however, the Court noted that the northerly junction was intended to enable not only the business park, but also construction of more than 2,000 homes, three villages and a district centre as part of a very substantial regeneration scheme planned for the area. The junction would improve traffic flow and a developer was prepared to provide the land required free of charge.

Although uncertainties remained as to the delivery of such benefits, the business park proposal was well advanced and there was nothing before the LEP to suggest that it would not proceed. The club’s proposal was at an earlier stage and it could not reasonably be said that the inquiries made by the LEP prior to the decision were insufficient.

The club’s submission that it was entitled to be made aware of the details of the rival proposal before the decision was reached was not supported by authority and did not give rise to a valid claim of procedural unfairness. The club’s challenge was in reality to the merits, rather than to the lawfulness, of the LEP’s decision.