Neighbourhood Plans - Court Postpones Local Referendum in Legal First

Neighbourhood plans are an increasingly common means by which local people are given the chance to express their views on the future character and appearance of the areas where they live. However, in a legal first, the High Court ordered postponement of a local referendum in respect of one such plan.

After accepting the recommendations of an independent examiner, a local authority decided to hold a referendum, thus giving residents the final say as to whether the plan should be adopted. However, a developer with property interests in the area objected to the plan on the basis that it failed to meet the basic conditions laid down by the National Planning Policy Framework.

The developer's concerns focused on the plan's designation of Local Green Spaces (LGSs) that would be protected from future development. It argued that neither the examiner nor the council had considered whether the designations were consistent with sustainable development in the area. It was submitted that they would inhibit organic growth of an existing settlement and discourage investment in new homes, essential services and job-creating projects.

The developer was in the process of mounting a judicial review challenge to the plan and sought an interim injunction to prevent the referendum being held prior to the outcome of those proceedings. In granting the order sought, the Court found that the developer had seriously arguable grounds for asserting that elements of the plan were unlawful.

The Court noted that, if the developer's arguments prevailed, any referendum result would be overturned. That would give rise to much wasted expense and disruption and would cause greater confusion amongst voters than if the referendum were postponed. The balance of convenience therefore fell in favour of preserving the status quo pending the outcome of the judicial review. The Court acknowledged that this was the first time that an injunction had been granted postponing a local referendum.