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Judge slams Northumberland County Council over wind farm ‘technicality’

A council has come under fire from a high court judge over a “disgraceful” bid to derail a legal challenge which has cost taxpayers over £9,500.

Northumberland County Council faced a third judicial review of its handling of a planning application for a wind turbine near Berwick from an objector to the proposal.

The council said the review should not be allowed to proceed because a document submitted by the objector was a colour photocopy and not the original.

The authority’s argument meant a high court hearing had to take place in London with both sides having to hire barristers and pay travel costs.

The judge quickly ruled the argument was “as bad a point I have come across” and allowed the review to proceed, ordering the council to pay the objector’s costs for the hearing of £9,500 plus VAT in addition to its own, taking the total cost of the three challenges to date to over £27,000.

The objector last night echoed the sentiments of the judge in accusing the council of “trying to wriggle out” of facing the review.

Cornhill farmer Andrew Joicey had on two previous occasions successfully sought judicial review of the council’s actions in granting planning permission to John and George Barber for a turbine at Brackenside Farm.

The previous reviews have cost the council over £17,700.

The council gave permission a third time last year, triggering a further review bid from Mr Joicey.

But the council insisted “service” of documents had not taken place correctly as the claim form submitted by Mr Joicey’s legal team was a colour photocopy and not the original.

While high court judges often decide whether to allow a review to proceed after considering written representations, the council’s argument necessitated a hearing in London at which barristers for both sides had to attend.

At the outset of the hearing, judge Mr Justice Collins asked the council if it was still relying on the argument

And he said: “That is as bad a point I have come across for the service point, I warn you. It is actually fairly disgraceful of a local authority to take a point such as this which depends on a pure technicality.”

He later told the council he was “singularly unimpressed” by its stance.

The council opted to drop the argument after Mr Justice Collins intimated he would allow the review to proceed.

He ordered the council pay Mr Joicey’s costs for the short hearing of £9,500 plus VAT, with it also having to pay its own.

Afterwards, Mr Joicey, who travelled to London for the hearing, said: “They were trying to wriggle out of facing the judicial review on a technicality.

“Like the judge, I simply could not believe that the council attempted to claim that my application for judicial review was invalid because one particular document was a colour photocopy rather than an original copy.

“The hearing, which would not have been necessary if the council had not made such an absurd claim, has already cost the council £9,500 for my costs alone. I am sure that their own legal costs for these proceedings will be substantial as well.”

A council spokesperson said: “The council claimed that Mr Joicey’s application for judicial review was invalid because the claim form had not been served on them. Mr Justice Lewis sitting in the High Court on April 15, 2014 agreed and ordered Mr Joicey’s solicitors to serve the claim form upon the council within 28 days. This did not happen but instead the council was sent a copy of a previous claim form.

“This resulted in a hearing in front of a high court judge on July 4 to decide whether or not permission for judicial review should be granted.

“Mr Justice Collins considered that it was reasonable of the council to expect a paper copy of the claim form, however, he concluded that the council had not been prejudiced by the non-service of the claim form and on this basis he ordered that permission for judicial review be granted, and that the council must pay the costs of the hearing in the sum of £9,500 plus VAT.”