Victory for Sainsbury’s as judge dismisses plea for judicial review of supermarket decision as ‘totally without merit’

PUBLISHED: 16:31 22 May 2014 | UPDATED: 10:30 23 May 2014

The planning committee at Whittlesey when permission was given to Sainsbury's. The decision was later challenged but upheld.

The planning committee at Whittlesey when permission was given to Sainsbury's. The decision was later challenged but upheld.

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A High Court judge has ruled that an 11th hour legal challenge to stop Sainsbury’s building their new Whittlesey supermarket “is totally without merit”.

The site of the country park near Whittlesey in connection with the Sainsbury's development.The site of the country park near Whittlesey in connection with the Sainsbury's development.

The judgement, released this afternoon, means the end of the lengthy battle between rival developers.

Richard Sears, of Manea based Harrier Developments Ltd, took Fenland District Council to court to try and force a judicial review of the decision to award permission to Sainsbury’s.

However Mr Justice Mitting said that “despite the length and erudition” of the grounds for appeal “there is nothing in them”.

His verdict also ordered Harrier Development to pay costs of £3,750 to Fenland Council.

The judge considered whether Harrier had put together sufficient evidence to sustain a full blown judicial review of Fenland Council’s decision to award permission to Sainsbury’s.

Mr Justice Mitting said in his response: “Permission is hereby refused, the application is considered to be totally without merit”.

Mr Sears had been in a protracted battle with March based developer Bruce Smith who had secured the Sainsbury’s permission alongside plans for a country park and commercial centre along Eastrea Road.

In its evidence to the courts, Rory McKenna, Fenland’s principal solicitor, said: “The planning committee’s decision to grant permission to Sainsbury’s was well within the range of reasonable responses to the application before it.”

Tesco already has permission for a store in Station Road, Whittlesey, but switched to Eastrea Road to compete with the Sainsbury’s bid.

Judge Mitting said of Fenland Council’s decision to award planning permission for the Sainsbury store this was a classic case for the exercise of judgement by the planning committee and head of planning.

He said: “Both reached decisions which they were entitled to reach for good reason. Hence the decision to refuse permission and the statement that the application is totally without merit.”

In a statement welcoming the decision, Fenland District Council said: “We are naturally delighted with the High Court judgment, which completely vindicates our planning process.

“Officers have worked tremendously hard to achieve this outcome. It has required painstaking and thorough work over a sustained period.

“Throughout the whole legal process we have robustly defended the Planning Committee’s decision to grant permission for the Sainsbury’s superstore and we have been proved to be right.

“In dismissing Harrier’s application as totally without merit, the judge couldn’t have been clearer. As he ruled: ‘This was a classic case for the exercise of judgment by the Committee and Head of Planning; and both reached decisions which they were entitled to reach for good reason.’

“That is what we have always maintained.”

Councillor John Clark, Leader of Fenland District Council, said: “This is great news for the council and for Whittlesey. I am particularly grateful to all our officers for guiding us through this very long and difficult process.

“Everyone will now hope that work can proceed quickly to create the development that the people of Whittlesey have made clear they desperately want.”

Councillor Will Sutton, FDC’s Cabinet member responsible for planning, said: “All those involved in planning will welcome this judgement and I’d like to thank all those responsible for helping to secure it. All their hard work has been rewarded.

“The committee’s decision and the process whereby it was reached has been subjected to the closest possible scrutiny and found to be entirely correct. Hopefully, it means we can all now put this issue to one side and move on.”

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