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Judge rejects ‘bias’ claim over minister’s wind farm refusal

An energy company refused planning permission for a controversial wind farm proposal in Northamptonshire has failed in a bid to revive the scheme at London’s High Court.

Broadview Energy had asked the High Court to overturn the refusal of consent for the proposed wind farm between the villages of Helmdon and Greatworth and order a reconsideration of its application.

But today Mr Justice Cranston rejected the company’s claim that the minister who turned down the plan was guilty of bias.

Broadview had alleged that the decision to refuse its planning appeal was made by a minister after “private meetings” with local MP Andrea Leadsom, who led the fight to block the five turbine wind farm at Spring Farm Ridge.

The company sought to persuade the judge to quash the decision taken on behalf of former communities secretary Eric Pickles and to order his successor, Greg Clark, to have the matter reconsidered.

But the judge ruled that it was normal for ministers to be lobbied by local MPs on planning matters, and that this did not give rise to the appearance of bias.

He said: “In my judgment, fair-minded and informed observers would conclude that there was no real possibility of ministerial bias in this case.

“Ministers are lobbied by MPs about constituency issues. Because ministers are parliamentarians, MPs use the opportunity to lobby them in person through informal encounters on the parliamentary estate. This is part of our parliamentary democracy and generally there can be no lawful objection to it.”

The wind farm was opposed by local campaigners the Helmdon Stuchbury and Greatworth Windfarm Action Group.

Jeremy Pike, representing Broadview, argued when the case was heard earlier this month that minister Kris Hopkins, who took the decision on behalf of Pickles last December, did so – against the recommendation of a planning inspector – after a private meeting with the Conservative MP for South Northamptonshire, Mrs Leadsom.

He said that this constituted a breach of “natural justice” and gave rise to “actual or apparent bias”, because the content of the meeting was not disclosed to Broadview and they were not given an equal opportunity to make their own representations in response.

However, Daniel Kolinsky QC argued on behalf of the secretary of state that the truth was these “meetings” amounted to conversations in the tea room and lobby of the House of Commons in which Mrs Leadsom took the “unscheduled opportunity” to discuss the wind farm proposal.

Richard Honey, separately representing the action group, argued that the lobbying of ministers in this way by MPs is “part and parcel” of their role representing their constituency, and that the claim should be dismissed.

Broadview Energy Developments Limited v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. Case Number: CO/408/2015