Gateshead Council faces legal bill after pathfinder demolitions ruled unlawful




Michael Donnelly


Planning Magazine


SAVE v Gateshead (Pathfinder)


A conservation group has been awarded legal costs after a judge declared that Gateshead Metropolitan Borough Council's demolition of more than 100 homes under Labour's axed housing renewal scheme had been unlawful.

SAVE Britain's Heritage had obtained interim injunctions to halt the demolitions of around 118 housing market renewal pathfinder homes, but these were ultimately discharged by the courts in November 2010 and the council began demolition work.

However, following the landmark Lancaster brewery case in March, SAVE went back to court and, following a hearing last week, a judge declared that the demolition was unlawful and awarded SAVE costs.

Richard Harwood, barrister of Thirty Nine Essex Street Chambers, who acted for SAVE said: "Gateshead Council unlawfully demolished 118 homes as they failed to have planning permission or carry out an environmental impact assessment.

"The council will now need to carry out an environmental impact assessment (EIA) on a retrospective application for the demolition which has been carried out and on any further proposals for demolition or redevelopment."

SAVE secretary Will Palin added: "Questions need to be asked over how public money was used to destroy good homes, in a area of housing need, without any plans to replace them".

"In addition to this there is the council's huge legal bill for this case of over £100,000 - described by the judge as 'utterly absurd' - which must now be met from its own funds."

The council has described SAVE's win as a "pyrrhic victory". Strategic director of legal and corporate services Mike Barker said: "The judge agreed that the council's original decision to demolish was reasonable at the time, but that since then the law has been clarified and that decision is now deemed, retrospectively, to be unlawful.

"The judge's frustration at the amount of money this whole process has cost is equalled by our own frustration at having to take part in a totally unnecessary, expensive, and ultimately pointless process.

"This is a pyrrhic victory for SAVE, but the real winners are the people of Bensham who, it is hoped, will soon begin to see the kind of neighbourhood improvements that they've been asking for."

The previous government launched nine pathfinders to tackle housing blight in the North and Midlands, but the scheme was wound up by housing minister Grant Shapps last year.