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Fatal Blow Dealt To Battle Claim

In a judgment, 9 July 2014, the Planning Court (Lindblom J) rejected a judicial review brought by Mr Charles Jones against a decision by English Heritage not to add the Battle of Fulford (1066) to its Register of Historic Battlefields: R (Jones) v English Heritage [2014] EWHC 2259.

The Register of Historic Battlefields was created in 1995. Registered battlefields enjoy a high level of protection under the planning system equivalent to listed buildings and scheduled ancient monuments (see para 132 NPPF).

Following a number of years of research, Mr Jones applied to add an area of land known as Germany Beck to the Register as the site of the Battle of Fulford. The significance of the battle in English history is described by Lindblom J as follows: "At Fulford the Anglo-Saxon earls, Edwin, Earl of Mercia, and Morcar, Earl of Northumbria, tried and failed to repel an invading Norse army under Harald Hardrada, the king of Norway. Harold took his army on a forced march north to confront and defeat the Norsemen at Stamford Bridge, and then went south again to resist the Norman invasion. He was killed at Hastings, his army routed, and William seized the throne of England."

English Heritage were initially warm to the Germany Beck location, but ultimately concluded that the evidence was not sufficient to justify registration in light of the requirement in the Selection Guide: Battlefields that a battlefield's location must be securely identified.

The judicial review focussed on the correct interpretation of the guidance. It was argued that English Heritage had misapplied its guidance and had applied too high a threshold, when a composite approach was called for. However, the Court found that the Claimant's interpretation "would weaken the test of 'a battle's location' having to be 'securely identified' in a way that the authors of the guidance plainly did not intend" and that English Heritage's decision was wholly consistent with the guidance.

The judgment represents a further illustration of the way in which courts approach the interpretation of policy documents; which can at times descend into close textual analysis despite the usual injunctions against an overly legalistic approach.

Please click here to see the judgment.

Emma Dring represented English Heritage.