Monday, 21 June 2010

Unitaries quashed

This is not planning law so much as local government law, but in the High Court today (21 June) Mr Justice Ouseley quashed the statutory orders creating unitary authorities at Norwich and Exeter. The ground on which the ministerial orders (made by the previous Secretary of State) were quashed was simple procedural unfairness. The S of S had set out clearly the grounds on which he would make such orders, then proceeded to make them on an entirely different basis, in circumstances in which (according to his previously stated criteria) those orders could not have been made.

The significance of this judgment is that it saves the government the trouble of proceeding with fresh primary legislation to undo the orders setting up the two unitary authorities. In his judgment, Ouseley suggests that the decision can be re-taken after a comparatively short further consultation period, but it is clear that the new S of S has no intention of doing any such thing. His re-taken decision, surely, will be not to proceed further with these unitary proposals.

With the previous proposals for unitaries already on hold in Suffolk and in the rest of Devon and Norfolk, Ouseley’s judgment would seem to have shot the fox, and saved some parliamentary time, unless there are some statutory loose ends that still need to be tied up in order to put the whole issue finally to bed. It might, for example, be felt necessary to drive a stake into Dracula’s heart (by passing a repeal Act) in order to avoid any possibility that disappointed local politicians in Norwich, Exeter and Ipswich might seek to raise the ‘undead’ again, by challenging a fresh ministerial decision not to create unitaries in those cities.


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