While there is nothing particularly newsworthy about residents falling out with their local council, the people of Farnham have dared to go a stage further and…
…have been granted a Judicial Review into “Your Waverley’s” behaviour.
The claimants, five local residents, including two Borough Councillors, believe that Waverley Borough Council, has broken the law by agreeing very significant changes to a 2003 contract for major development in their historic town centre. They argue this has been done without putting the revised proposals out for retendering, thereby allowing the current developer substantial advantages not available to the original or new competitors.
The changes have hurt local council tax payers through a significant loss of important social and community benefits, as well as a reduction in proposed land payment by the developer – down from £8.78m. to £3.19m.
In a previous, and remarkably similar, case heard at the High Court, – R(Gottlieb) v Winchester CC - the Judge ruled that, as a resident, councillor and council tax payer, the claimant had a legitimate interest in seeking to ensure that his Council complied with the law, spent public money wisely and ensured the most appropriate development for the City through open competition.
In view of this ruling, the five Farnham claimants believe they have a very strong case. They are widely supported by individuals and local organisations, with Farnham Town Council providing a supporting witness statement.
Perhaps , secretly, Waverley actually shares the Claimants’ view. Why else would it have chosen to focus so much of its energy and funds on attempting to demonstrate that the claimants do not have any legal right (legal standing) to challenge its actions and how it has managed its partnership with the developers? The Council and its legal team have pressed, and obtained the go ahead, for a preliminary hearing, solely devoted to the issue of whether the claimants have legal standing. In granting permission for a Judicial Review, the Judge saw no reason why standing should be the subject of a separate hearing.
(But …. of course it does have the added advantage for “Your Waverley” of making the Farnham Five shell out even more of their money!)
If residents who are council tax payers and, in two cases, Waverley Borough Councillors, are denied the legal standing necessary to proceed to Judicial Review, for which a judge has already given permission, a damaging and dangerous precedent will be set, releasing local authorities from the need to act lawfully and spend wisely, by ensuring best value for money. This must be tested in the courts.
Look at the Crowdjustice website https://www.crowdjustice.org/case/farnham-brightwells-development for more details of this fight to establish the right of concerned residents and councillors to legally challenge whether the authorities they have elected are acting with wisdom and within the law. Legal action in the High Court is very expensive please make a pledge.