R (oao Waverley Borough Council) v Waverley Borough Council Counting Officer

[2024] EWHC 833 (Admin)
13 Mar 2024

Public Law and Judicial Review, Planning and Environment, Information Law

Waverley BC had accepted an independent examiner’s recommendations in respect of the two neighbourhood plans. It proceeded to hold referendums in relation to both plans. Under reg 4 of the Neighbourhood Plan (Referendums) Regulations 2012, the council provided the proper officer with an information statement and specified documents, including the proposed plans. The proper officer was required to publish the documents on the council’s website and made available for inspection at the council’s offices.

Waverley BC later gave public notice that both referendums would be held at the end of February 2024. However it was subsequently discovered that the versions of the neighbourhood plans that had been given to the proper officer and then published were materially incorrect. In one plan the key diagram did not accord with the version approved by the examiner and included erroneous changes to site allocations and the settlement boundary. In the other plan, the local green spaces map did not accord with the version approved by the examiner, and included an erroneous settlement boundary.

Under election law, once the referendum process has been initiation, there is no mechanism by which the council or the returning office can either correct the mistake tstop the process. Accordingly an application was made for an injunction to stop the process in order to be able to re-initiate the process.

The court agreed that there was not other way. The Court held that if the referendums had proceeded, the outcome would have been an unlawful result. The proposed plans would not have been provided to voters prior to the referendums, as required by reg 4. Furthermore, the electorate would have voted on draft plans which were not the proposed plans which had been approved by the independent examiner, and upon which the council had decided to hold the referendums. On this basis the court granted confirmed an interim injunction which had already been made confirming that the referendums should not proceed because of the errors which had been identified.

You can find the full judgment here.