Friday, 25 November 2011

Wanstead Flats - At The Royal Courts Of Justice

This morning I attending a hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice for the first time since 1988, when I was there because my polytechnic was trying to shut down a student occupation (that time, due to lack of sleep, I fell asleep in one of the corridors).

As regular readers of this blog will know, a Legislative Reform Order (LRO) amending the Epping Forest Act was passed with little debate by Parliament some months ago. However, the Save Wanstead Flats Campaign has continued to argue that because the consultation carried out by the Home Office was so poor and denied local people a proper chance to challenge the decision, it should be overturned. One resident and Campaign member, Dr Michael Pelling, has therefore taken on the Home Secretary and Metropolitan Police by seeking a judicial review of the consultation process and the quashing of the LRO. The Save Wanstead Flats Campaign is an "interested party" in the case.

In early October, the original request for permission to apply for a judicial review was turned down by Mr Justice Irwin. Some of his reasoning was decidedly peculiar – he argued, for instance, that the existence of “a local action group that mounted an active campaign” means that “the idea that the proposal [from the Home Office] was somehow concealed from the local community is quite fanciful”. The ludicrous notion that local campaigners, with extremely limited resources (about £180 raised at public meetings, some of my time provided by my employer and the passion and dedication of local people), are able to force the police and the Home Office to release information shows just how out of touch the judiciary can often be. As the Save Wanstead Flats Campaign pointed out a year ago, the police’s decision to release limited details of alternative sites only a few weeks before the close of the consultation made it impossible to check how reliable this information actually was. We didn't have the funds or the time to check every location on its 'long-list' of potential sites.

As a result of Mr Justice Irwin's unimpressive ruling, Dr Pelling sought a Renewal Hearing. Yesterday’s presentation at the Royal Courts of Justice in front of Mr Justice Bean was to prepare for a full hearing in December. Michael asked for disclosure from the Home Office and the police of the ‘alternative sites’ they had identified in the event that the LRO is overturned – this was refused. So too was an argument against a ‘rolled-up’ hearing, which would mean seeking a renewal of the judicial review and, if successful, holding the review itself on the same day. This makes Michael’s job considerably harder, but he has managed to secure some protection against costs.

The ‘rolled up’ hearing is scheduled to take place on 5 December, back at the Royal Courts of Justice. One way of another, we will know the outcome of the legal challenge against the Home Office in defence of keeping Wanstead Flats open to the public – and it is essential that as many people as possible come along and show the level of opposition to the planned Olympics operations base.

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