Councils could face expensive legal showdown

By Tim Clarke Thursday 06 December 2012 Updated: 06/12 16:24

CASH-strapped Worcester City Council could embark upon an expensive legal battle with Malvern Hills District Council over its decision to scupper a joint blueprint for the future of housing growth in south Worcestershire.

City council chiefs have threatened to pursue a judicial review unless Malvern councillors reverse last month's decision to vote down the South Worcestershire Development Plan (SWDP).

But one city councillor Neil Laurenson (Green/St Stephen's) has voiced serious concerns over the prospect of thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money being spent on a battle in the High Court.

It comes ahead of another extraordinary meeting of Malvern's full council on Monday (December 10) when leader Coun David Hughes will urge councillors to perform a U-turn and support the SWDP.

Malvern voted to explore alternative proposals drawn up by a council policy group at November's meeting rather than endorse the SWDP - a decision which sparked a furious reaction from its partners at Worcester and Wychavon councils.

All three councils have ploughed huge sums of money into the masterplan over the past five years only for it to be de-railed at the eleventh hour.

Coun Hughes claims many councillors did not realise the full implications of their actions and has urged them to back a motion supporting the SWDP.

But this has prompted opposition councillors Julian Roskams and Clive Smith to table a motion of no confidence in Coun Hughes and his deputy Paul Swinburn which states "they have brought this council into disrepute with their lack of open, transparent and democratic leadership of the SWDP process."

Duncan Sharkey, managing director of Worcester City Council said a pre-action letter had been sent to Malvern over its decision to vote against the SWDP.

"If Malvern councillors continue to vote against the South Worcestershire Development Plan when they meet on December 10 we will look at launching a judicial review," he said.

"That can be an expensive process, but the cost pales against the far greater cost of having to start all over again on a new local plan after five years of joint working."

But Coun Laurenson said he was concerned about the expense of any legal wrangle and added Malvern councillors had already made a democratic decision.

"They made an informed decision last month but it could be overridden by a very expensive legal action which we in Worcester would pay for," he added.

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