The Bristol Post is today reporting that the council has dropped its defence in the Judicial review case over the proposed Ashton Vale stadium area. It doesn’t appear to have been made official yet with the court, so take the report with a pinch of salt.
A couple of people have noted the convenient timing of this announcement – the day after mayoral referendum. I don’t imagine that Bristol City fans will appreciate being kept in the dark over this decision before casting their votes yesterday!
The shock decision means the council will now commission an independent inspector to hold another public inquiry over the future of the site. In effect, the long-running saga is going back to square one.
I am not sure that this is true. At all. The judicial review will still go ahead, just without a defence, I believe. The judge will make the decision in June as planned, although clearly the council feel that it will go against them. If it does go back to an inspector, there would be no justifiable reason for employing a new inspector to start over again from scratch instead of just examining the new evidence.
The council’s decision to cut its losses also means there is likely to be less delay over the future of the site.
Presumably this will still happen on the same time scale, although perhaps marginally quicker without a defence team. I am not sure why some commenters seem to think that this will speed things up to any noticeable extent.
I note that the article includes two quotes from the defence side (a council spokesman and Cllr Peter Abraham), but no one from the other side. It also fails to look at how much time and money the council wasted defending a poorly made decision.
A question that springs to mind is – at what point did the council know that they would lose the case? I am not aware of any new evidence or arguments being made in the last couple of weeks. Did they in fact know all along and just hoped that something would come up to save the day…. such as the applicant dropping out, for example? Or were their lawyers giving them more bad advice on top of the apparently bad original advice?
It would certainly explain why they were so desperate to prematurely declare the entire thing over. Was Cllr Peter Abraham, who chaired the committee that made this poor decision, aware of the situation just a few weeks ago when he made this statement?
“Our cross-party Committee last year considered all the facts extremely carefully in this complex matter, taking all proper professional and legal advice. We were therefore disappointed when a local person applied to the High Court to challenge our decision.”
In a less than gallant statement, Cllr Abraham today blamed the people who had the temerity to challenge his apparently indefensible decision:
“Although a High Court Judge in an earlier hearing urged compromise, it is very disappointing that those concerned have preferred instead to run up ever-growing lawyers’ bills – many of which will ultimately be carried by the taxpayer. I support this pragmatic decision today, so as to begin to draw a line under this matter.”
There is another article in the Post, which appears to be an editorial comment on the issue, which takes the spin to an even greater level:
In fact, what the council has done here has helped the situation.
This is because the council has deftly avoided what could have been enormous legal costs. And those costs would have come from the pockets of Bristol taxpayers.
So for that the council deserves credit. In fact this is exactly the sort of common sense decision making that we have so often demanded.
No mention of how it was the council’s poorly fudged decision that caused this in the first place? No mention of how they insisted that it was all done properly and forced it to court instead of simply rectifying the mistake? BCC manufactured this entire mess and SAVE has been utterly vindicated in their challenge.
I sincerely hope that this will mean that costs will be awarded to SAVE too. This affair has been a waste of the court’s time and taxpayers’ money.
There is a far better article on Bristol 24-7 that provides a more critical view of the issue that Post readers will have missed, which accuses the council of being ‘brazen’:
The council said it had withdrawn its defence of the decision by councillors last summer to split the site – allowing for Bristol City FC to build its new stadium in the northern half while the remainder was kept as a town green.
It said it will now refer the issue to an independent inspector to consider, who will make recommendations to councillors for them to consider all over again.
However, this is a false interpretation of the process, the expert told Bristol24-7, and that the council would instead have to either fight or accept the initial findings of an independent inspector – who recommended in 2010 that the entire Ashton Vale site being registered as a town green.
He added that the council had been “brazen”, pointing out that the High Court judge had not even been informed of their decision yet, while the local media were told first last night.
Meanwhile, he said there had been a “capitulation” on two other arguments: a final acceptance that the council had not marked the correct town green area in final documents, and that new evidence presented following the first independent inspector’s report was not admissable.
It would seem that the council is even possibly mishandling their withdrawal from the defence.
Colin sexstone sounds rather less enthusiastic than the council about the failed defence:
“Sadly, it’s down to just a few people and a number of outside organisations who’ve lost Bristol the chance to have a new stadium,” he told Jack FM.
“It was going to be such a wonderful development opportunity but now that could be gone and that is so, so sad.”
As I have said several times before, there are alternative sites available at Ashton Gate and Alderman Moores. Both of these could, especially if used in combination, provide the club with everything they need. This needn’t be the end of it.