Energy firm bosses who kicked up a storm over a conversation in the House of Commons tea room have lost the latest round of a legal fight over a wind farm plan.
Broadgreen Energy Developments’ plans to build a wind farm near Helmdon, Northamptonshire, had been rejected by – the then – Conservative Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles in late 2014.
Bosses complained that Andrea Leadsom, Conservative MP for South Northamptonshire – and a wind farm opponent – had unfair access to MP Kris Hopkins, a minister in Mr Pickles’ department, in the Commons tea room.
But three Court of Appeal judges have dismissed Broadview’s challenge after a hearing in London.
Broadview had wanted to overturn a decision by a High Court judge.
Lawyers said Mr Justice Cranston had been wrong to rule against the firm.
“The judge was wrong to accept that lobbying of ministers by MPs was normal and acceptable when quasi-judicial planning decisions were being made and there was no basis for the judge’s conclusion that the tea room conversation was not of any length or importance,” barrister Jeremy Pike, who represented Broadview, told appeal judges.
“It was the fact that Mrs Leadsom made representations to Mr Hopkins in person rather than the content of those representations that mattered.”
Mr Pike added: “Broadview was refused direct access to the minister while Mrs Leadsom was able to meet him in the tea room and the lobby of the House of Commons and remind him of her views.”
But appeal judges dismissed the firm’s challenge.
Lord Justice Longmore, who headed the appeal panel, said: “I find it impossible to conclude that the tea room conversation played any part in (the) decision-making process.”
But he added: “Nevertheless the accusation of bias made in this case shows how important the principle is that ministers making planning decisions should not allow themselves to be lobbied by parties to the planning process or by local MPs. If they do allow it, accusations of bias are all too easily made, however unjustified they may be.”
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