Third judicial review against South Cambridgeshire District Council after alleged changes to constitution

South Cambridgeshire District Council is facing three seperate High Court challenges. Picture: Archa

South Cambridgeshire District Council is facing three seperate High Court challenges. Picture: Archant - Credit: Archant

South Cambridgeshire District Council is now facing a third judicial review claim after accusations that officers unlawfully made changes to the council’s constitution without those changes having been approved by the full council – as is required by law.

The council is already facing two judicial reviews of planning decisions brought by local residents, The Fews Lane Consortium, a community action group based in Longstanton, is responsible for bringing all three claims.

In one of the judicial review claims currently pending against the council in the High Court - related to Steeple Morden - the Fews Lane Consortium alleges that the council's practice of taking delegation decisions on planning applications at unannounced meetings, from which the public are excluded and for which no agendas or minutes are published, is a violation of the Local Government Act 1972.

According to the act, local authorities are to take decisions at public meetings and produce written records of decisions that are open to inspection by the press and the public.

In response to that claim, officers submitted a proposal to the council's planning committee to correct the legal defect in the council's delegation scheme for planning decisions.

This would mean future planning decisions would not be subject to being challenged on grounds of illegality.

On February 12, the council's planning committee voted 5-4 to approve the proposal, which removed all powers to call-in planning applications from elected councillors and parish councils and instead transferred those powers to the council's joint director of planning.

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On February 17, officers uploaded an amended version of the council's constitution onto the council's website that incorporated the changes proposed by the council's planning committee despite those changes never having been approved by the full council itself.

Documents provided by the Fews Lane Consortium cite the provisions regarding local authority constitutions contained in Part 1A of the Local Government Act 2000 and in particular section 9R(6) of the act, which expressly prohibits councils from delegating the passing of resolutions in relation to councils' constitutions to their committees, sub-committees, or officers.

Daniel Fulton, who is leading the Consortium's litigation efforts, stated that "not only did the council not delegate the authority to change its constitution to its planning committee, but it was prohibited from doing so by section 9R(6) of the statute."

"It is deeply regrettable that the Consortium has been forced to issue further legal proceedings against the council in this case. Just last week, we wrote to the members of the council's cabinet explaining that the Consortium would greatly prefer to sit down and find a collaborative and cooperative way to address our concerns about the problems in the council's planning service without the need for further legal proceedings. However, no response was received.

"As long as the council's leadership continues to refuse to engage in any kind of meaningful or constructive dialogue, we will have no choice but to continue to hold the council accountable for the illegality of its decisions through the judicial process."