SUPERMARKETGATE: Solicitor warns of legal challenge fear that could lead to delay, uncertainty, and cost and bring planning into disrepute

Ian Hunt

Ian Hunt - Credit: Archant

FENLAND Council’s solicitor has warned that the outcome of supermarket-gate must be taken on planning merits “and legal challenges, whilst they have their place, should be avoided if possible.”

Ian Hunt, chief solicitor to the council, said that whatever next week’s planning committee meeting in Whittlesey decides there remains a risk of legal action.

Mr Hunt has told councillors- in a 10 page legal opinion - that the scale of legal threats from all parties was unusual.

“Members will be aware just how unusual the current circumstances are, no such similar advice having been given in response to mere threats for some time if ever and certainly not within the writer’s knowledge,” he said.

Mr Hunt said: “Challenges, even if they fail, lead to delay, uncertainty, and cost and bring the planning system into disrepute.”

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He warns costs could be “significant” given that both Sainsbury’s and Tesco are using London solicitors “and will no doubt be instructing experienced senior/leading counsel.”

Mr Hunt said that judicial review challenges can take years, particularly if there is an appeal “and Whittlesey should not, if possible, have to wait for that outcome for obvious reasons”.

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Of competing applications by Sainsbury’s and Tesco- and a third for a business park- Mr Hunt says there is “scope for challenge in respect of each application” and on grounds of which the committee have been made aware.

“But any challenge is not certain to succeed,” he said. “There is no benefit in waiting for a challenge and then have to concede- or contemplate concession.”

Because planning permission documents have not been issued, the council, says Mr Hunt, “is in a position to avoid that step if it considers advisable to do so and accepts officers’ advice as to the extent of the risk”

Officers are recommending refusal of Sainsbury’s application, refusal of the business park and are recommending Tesco, who already have consent for a Station Road store, be allowed to swop that permission in return for a new store in Eastrea Road

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