Appeal court backs Legoland village despite greenbelt concerns

James Bagley, Local Democracy Reporter

Legoland to close to help prevent spread of coronavirus

Legoland Windsor Resort (Ref:116768-9)

Countryside charity Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) Berkshire said it was 'disappointed' by the Court of Appeal’s judgement in April, which backed the theme park in building 450 residential units in Windsor Forest, a greenbelt site.

Despite the loss, CPRE said it wants the Supreme Court, the most senior court in the UK, to reject permission for the building of the holiday village in order to protect the veteran and ancient woodland.

Royal Borough councillors on the borough-wide development panel granted Legoland planning permission in 2018, despite officers recommending refusal due to the 'intrusive' impact of the environment.

Councillors at that time concluded a 'very special circumstance' existed as the resort’s contribution to the local economy and tourism outweighed any harm to the green belt.

Planning officers granted planning permission 11 months after as developers were subject to 30 conditions and a section 106 agreement, which had to be approved by the council before work was conducted.

Following this decision, the chairman of CPRE at that time, John Hudson, sought to challenge the council’s decision via a judicial review at High Court, saying that the council did not undertake an appropriate examination of the development’s impact on trees. The Royal Borough accepted that it failed to carry this out.

However, Justice Lang dismissed his challenge, saying an appropriate assessment would not have affected the granting of permission and there would be 'no harm' to ancient and veteran trees.

CPRE Berkshire decided to go to the Court of Appeal but the three appeal judges rejected their case, saying the development would cause 'no harm' to veteran trees.

It added that all relevant conditions - agreed between Legoland and the council - had been complied with.

Representing Mr Hudson, Marc Willers QC, said that the council did not take into account the change in the national planning policy framework, which would 'strengthen of the protection given to veteran trees,' in its decision-making.

Lord Justice Coulson, who was sitting with Justices King and Car, said a suggestive shift in planning policy would be 'unfairly legalistic' and would’ve made 'no difference.'

They upheld the High Court’s reason an assessment would not have made a difference to the council’s decision. Lord Justice Coulson criticised Mr Hudson’s claims for focusing on the 2018 panel meeting where no challenge was formally submitted.

On the veteran trees, the judges said that all the documents which formed the planning decision were published in the public domain. These explained why the council had concluded that mitigating measures would prevent any harm to those trees.

Reacting to the judgement, Gloria Keene, CPRE Berkshire branch secretary, said: “Every tree matters. Ancient woodlands are vital to tackle climate change.

“The environment and climate emergency shows that we need trees, woodlands, and forests more than ever.

“Trees, and especially mature trees, are important for sequestering carbon, meaning they trap carbon dioxide from the air as they grow, only releasing it when they die or are chopped down.

“The government knows this as its draft Environment Bill outlines measures to better protect our existing trees and woodland.”

Legloand had not responded to a request for comment at the time of going to press.

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