Edgbaston legal challenge could heap embarrassment on Birmingham planners
Birmingham City Council‘s planning department can scarcely risk yet more embarrassment following the Big Screen fiasco, where £1 million of public money has been wasted on a television in Victoria Square which is highly unlikely ever to be switched on.
But the screen lunacy will be seen as very small fry indeed if the latest challenge to the planners is upheld.
Cannon Hill Neighbourhood Forum is seeking a judicial review into the way the planning committee decided to approve a £32 million expansion of Warwickshire County Cricket Club’s ground in Edgbaston.
Similarities between handling of the screen and WCCC applications are striking.
Both schemes were heavily promoted by Tory council leader Mike Whitby and backed by the Cabinet – something that was bound to put additional pressure on the planners to give a nod of approval.
Both were talked-up by former regeneration director Clive Dutton, with claims the screen would be good for Birmingham’s image while it was “unthinkable” Test match cricket might disappear from Birmingham which, according to Dutton, is what would happen if the ground expansion and permanent floodlighting was not approved.
In the case of the screen, the planning committee failed to conduct proper consultation and research into the impact this would have on workers in the Waterloo House offices – with the result the building’s owners obtained an injunction preventing the screen from being switched on.
As far as Edgbaston is concerned, the residents’ legal case runs along similar lines. A failure to consult, to carry out an environmental impact study or to take any notice of a decision by a planning inspector to reject a similar ground expansion plan. In other words, councillors were determined to force approval through come what may.
If a judicial review is granted, then lengthy delays before a decision can be reached are inevitable. That would put a halt to work on the Edgbaston stadium and almost certainly cost Birmingham a money-spinning Test match against India in 2011.
If the High Court throws out the residents’ case, then the ground will be ready in time.
But don’t expect the match to be shown on the Big Screen.
No word yet from the great and good of Birmingham in the shape of the city strategic partnership, whose incompetence in mishandling the £115 million Working Neighbourhoods Fund was exposed by the Post this week.
Given its track record – taking 18 months to spend just £2.5 million of the fund – they’ve probably formed a working party to discuss the article.
No great surprise, either, that Be Birmingham board meetings were closed to the public the moment John Hemming ceased to be chairman.
I think we can see clearly now why they don’t want press and public to attend.