The preparation of a Joint Core Strategy (JCS) for three local planning authorities is a gargantuan undertaking. What happens then when a legal challenge is successfully made to part of the JCS, on the basis that the underpinning Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) is not up to scratch?

This is something which the Administrative Court recently had to deal with in the case of Heard v Broadland and South Norfolk District Councils and Norwich City Council (2012) when a number of challenges were made to parts of the recently-adopted JCS.

The challenge relating to the section of the SEA which dealt with a proposed area of growth within Broadland District Council’s administrative area was upheld by Mr Justice Ouseley. He considered that the SEA had not grappled with why the preferred option was being chosen. There was no real analysis of the preferred option and “selected reasonable alternatives”.

In a nutshell, reasons had not been given for the selection of the preferred option and why no other alternatives were selected for assessment. The Judge held that this was a breach of the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive (2001/42/EC).

What happens now

Although no relief was granted on the first hearing, the parties went back to court several weeks later when the Judge remitted part of the JCS on certain issues in the Broadland growth area to just before submission stage. The remainder of the JCS appears to be unaffected.

The process will need a certain level of co-operation between the parties as thought will need to be given how the remitted parts of the JCS need to be handled. Will there be any knock-on effects on other parts of the JCS? This is possible and it is understood that around 50 pages of the JCS are affected.

The duties to co-operate and work collaboratively

Although primarily of local interest, the case illustrates the hiccups that are increasingly likely to affect plan-making in the future as local planning authorities tackle their duty to co-operate at section110 of the Localism Act 2012, and take into account the requirements set out in the NPPF to “work collaboratively” with other bodies to ensure co-ordination of strategic priorities across local boundaries.

This appears to be exactly what the three local authorities in this case were attempting to do. It will be instructive to see what impact there will be on development proposals not only in the Broadland area of the affected JCS but potentially more widely, as the remitted part is being reconsidered.