Five years after Bromley's plans for the Crystal Palace multiplex collapsed when the developers abandoned the project, the European Court of Justice has found Bromley - along with the government and John Prescott's department - guilty of breaking European environment law when it granted planning permission without an environmental impact assessment.

The case was initiated by the Crystal Palace Campaign after Bromley Council, despite pleas by some of their councillors, in 1999 gave final planning permission for the massive cinema multiplex in Crystal Palace Park without an environmental assessment of its impact.

Bromley Council relied on 1999 regulations issued by John Prescott's department that an environmental assessment could only be required at the initial outline planning stage, not later during the planning process, as was the case here, ending with so-called "reserved matters". That was wrong, ruled the European Court in Luxembourg. The relevant European Directive of 1985, as amended in 1997, was binding in UK law and meant "that projects likely to have significant effects on the environment, ... must be made subject to an assessment with regard to their effects before (multi-stage) development consent is given".

A heavy fine could be imposed by the European authorities on the UK government if it fails to ensure promptly that the planning process complies fully with the European Directive. This means that all across the country environmental assessments could be called for at any time up to and including the final so-called "reserved matters" stage of the planning process.

The CPC's complaint was taken up by the European Commission which in 2001 gave the UK government two months to come into compliance. But John Prescott's department was defiant and has seen the European legal process grind on to the humiliation of losing all its arguments, much in the way the French government was found in breach of European law over British beef.

In a related case referred to Luxembourg by the House of Lords concerning Bromley resident Diane Barker, the European Court ruled that environmental assessments "must be carried out pursuant to national law in a manner consistent with Community law". It also confirmed to the House of Lords its rulings in the CPC case.

Former CPC chairman, planning barrister Philip Kolvin commented:

"The British way meant that if an evolving development carried unanticipated environmental effects there was no means for the planning authority to demand that they be environmentally assessed. As a result of the European Court's judgment, UK planning law will need to be amended to provide for environmental assessment of reserved matters applications. I am proud that the Crystal Palace Campaign left a three-fold legacy - a saved park, a process of dialogue leading to a sustainable future for the park and now an environmentally sounder improvement to the planning system in the UK, which will be of benefit to communities the length and breadth of the nation. I hope Crystal Palace will prove to be the bulwark which helps to protect other communities from inappropriate, insensitive development."

Current CPC chairman Ray Sacks stated:

"It is enormously to Philip Kolvin's credit that this case has at long last been brought to a successful conclusion. For a grassroots community campaign to have taken on the government, as well as the council, and won is extraordinary. I think the outcome speaks volumes for the Blair government's attitude towards the environment, and its purported Euro credentials, during its 9 years in office. It would be interesting to know what this debacle has cost the taxpayer in needless legal costs these past 5 years."

Text of judgments:

L.37 Judgement of the Court (First Chamber) - Case C-508/03, 4 May 2006: Commission v UK

L.38 Judgement of the Court (First Chamber) - Case C-290/03, 4 May 2006: Barker v Bromley

CPC submission and related documents

Themes/European Commission


NOTE: Later this year the London Development Agency plans to begin the New Sports Centre as part of the scheme to regenerate Crystal Palace Park. The facilitated dialogue with local groups continues.

Crystal Palace Campaign
Press Officer: Fred Emery 020 8761 0076 Mobile: 0794 117 2023
All correspondence to: Hon Secretary, 33 Hogarth Court, Fountain Drive, London SE19 1UY
VA.Day@ukgateway.net Website: www.crystal.dircon.co.uk

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28/2/06 Last updated 28/2/06