P108 - Brussels puts UK planners in the dock

by Selina Mills, Daily Telegraph 4 February 2003

The European Commission is taking the Government to court for failing to fulfill a European Union environmental directive in a move that could have far-reaching implications for planning and development in Britain. The commission said it would pursue legal action against the current government, which two years ago gave the go-ahead for a multiplex cinema and leisure development at London's Crystal Palace Park.

In a letter to a local action group, Crystal Palace Campaign, the commission said that the Government and Bromley Council, responsible for planning in the Crystal Palace area, had not requested the environmental impact assessment, required by an EU directive, to ensure the development would not harm the local area.

It had also ignored calls by the public for an assessment. Industry sources said that if the commission wins its case, it could also bring about a major change in British planning law. It could, for example, require environmental assessments for all major schemes, even those that already have outline planning consent, such as the White City redevelopment in west London.

The legal action could also embarrass deputy prime minster John Prescott, who gave the Crystal Palace scheme the go-ahead without asking for an environmental impact assessment. A spokesman for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister said:

"Until we have received something from the court explaining their concerns, it is impossible for us to offer a response. But it is an issue we take seriously."

The move also further challenges Bromley Council's claim that it had always acted within the law. In 1997 consultants Chris Blandford and Associates advised developers London & Regional Properties that the multiplex "was unlikely to have significant environmental effects", therefore requiring no environmental impact assessment. London & Regional has since withdrawn from the scheme.

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Last updated 4/02/03