A unique challenge by a local Police and Crime Commissioner to planning consent granted for construction of 4,250 homes as part of a ‘new town’ near Leicester – on grounds that not enough account had been taken of the increased burden on police services – has been dismissed by the High Court.
The development was projected to cover almost 400 hectares and Blaby District Council, which granted outline planning permission for the proposals in January 2014, hoped that it would generate £159 million of investment in new infrastructure, buildings, parks and open spaces as well as more than 1,500 new jobs.
The Police and Crime Commissioner for Leicestershire mounted a judicial review challenge to the scheme on grounds that an underlying agreement struck between the council and developers under Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 did not adequately cater for the additional strain that such a substantial project would place on the local police force.
Under the agreement, developers were to contribute £536,834 towards additional equipment needed by the force and a maximum of £1,089,660 towards the acquisition or extension of police premises. However, those contributions would only be triggered when, respectively, 2,600 and 3,750 new homes were occupied.
The Commissioner did not challenge the principle of the proposed development or the amount of the contributions. However, he argued that the agreement was defective in that the timing of the contributions would burden the local force with substantial additional policing duties for an indefinite period until the development was nearing completion. It was also submitted that the agreement contained no clear commitment on the developers' part to contribute anything towards the cost of police premises required to meet the needs of the burgeoning new community.
The Court found that the Commissioner's concerns could not be 'characterised as a quibble about a minor matter'. There were features of the way in which the police contributions were dealt with by the council which were 'not very satisfactory' and 'legitimate criticisms' could be made of their timing.
However, the Commissioner had engaged in prolonged negotiations with developers in respect of the amount and timing of the contributions. His representations were properly considered by the council, which had exhibited an 'accommodating approach' to the issue, and there was no explicit or implied commitment that the Commissioner would be consulted on the specific terms of the agreement. In those circumstances, the Commissioner had failed to surmount the very high threshold of establishing that the agreement was infected by irrationality.