A LEGAL dispute over a multi-million pound regeneration scheme in Newbury looks set to continue.
Faraday Developments Limited (FDL) took West Berkshire Council to court claiming that it failed to secure best value or follow correct process when it signed a development agreement with St Modwen to redevelop the London Road Industrial Estate.
But following a two-day judicial review hearing last month, the High Court ruled West Berkshire Council did not act unlawfully when appointing its preferred developer in 2014.
In his judgement, Justice Holgate threw out the challenge and described FDL’s claims about not securing best value as “wholly fallacious” and “speculative at best”.
But the bitter dispute shows little sign of calming down with FDL saying it firmly disagrees with the court ruling and intends to appeal it.
The controversial redevelopment – which will provide hundreds of new homes, offices and retail units – is one of the council’s key objectives.
In a defiant response to the High Court judgement, FDL’s managing director, Duncan Crook, said: “FDL respectfully but firmly disagrees with the judgement and intends to apply for leave to appeal.
“Central to the council’s High Court defence was their primary objective to increase to a maximum the financial returns through redevelopment of land, but without considering other impacts.
“Crucially, the judgement concluded that the agreement between the council and St Modwen neither achieves nor does not achieve best value.
“That test will only be applied if St Modwen decide to buy land and carry out redevelopment.”
He added: “But for the negative actions of the council, Faraday Plaza would have been completed several years ago.
“Faraday Plaza will achieve both of the council’s stated objectives of regeneration and maximising financial returns. The scheme could be delivered quickly and without cost or risk to the public purse.
“This is a dramatic contrast to the council’s strategy which has no definite prospect of proceeding.”
Speaking after the High Court ruling, James Fredrickson, the executive member for corporate services and external affairs, said: “We are delighted with this outcome.
“However, it’s extremely disappointing that a developer chose to publicly make accusations that were found to be ‘fallacious’ in a court of law.
“We owe it to taxpayers to ensure that they do not foot the bill for such a speculative legal challenge.
“Overall, this judgement is excellent news for West Berkshire – it will enable the regeneration of the estate, providing modern accommodation and business space for the local area.
“In the future, I urge FDL representatives to avoid, as Justice Holgate put it, such ‘unnecessary and inappropriate’ comments.”
Although the council has emerged victorious in its legal dispute with FDL, there are several more obstacles to overcome before the LRIE redevelopment can go ahead.
One major issue is Newbury Football Club which the council needs to evict from its Faraday Road ground by June 2018 to allow St Modwen to build flats on the site, but the club claim they have legal rights as tenants.
The council first announced its plans to redevelop the LRIE almost a decade ago describing it as a ‘run down and outdated’ estate. It also said it wanted to provide Newbury with more affordable housing.
In 2009, it granted outline planning permission to developer Faraday Developments Limited (FDL) to carry out its own ‘Faraday Plaza’ scheme for 300 homes, a hotel and office space, but planning permission lapsed in 2012.
FDL submitted an identical application which the council then refused but a planning inspector later ruled that decision was wrong and that council officers had ‘misled’ councillors into rejecting it.
Then, in 2014, the council signed a development agreement with developer St Modwen, which has formed the basis for FDL’s recent legal challenge.