Only two weeks before the local election date, the Council will know if they are successful on their appeal against the decision to refuse their decision to grant a lease to a private nursery in Wandsworth Common.
Last July, the High Court ruled a claim for judicial review in favour of Sandy Muir, a local resident, against Wandsworth Borough Council (WBC) and their decision to award a long lease to a private fee paying nursery for properties on Wandsworth Common – in breach of the 1967 ‘Long Act’.
A High Court judge ruled that WBC acted unlawfully in offering a lease for the use of Neal’s Lodge as a private fee-paying nursery. Such use would effectively restrict its availability to all but the more privileged local residents.
The council was refused permission to appeal the judgment by the High Court but subsequently renewed their application at the Court of Appeal on 3 different grounds. They were granted permission to appeal on 2 of these grounds but refused on the third, which was entirely new, in November.
With a view to minimising his financial exposure, Sandy Muir applied to the Bar Pro Bono Unit for support from a barrister acting on a pro bono basis. The unit approved the application and Victoria Wakefield of Brick Court Chambers volunteered to represent Sandy at the Court of Appeal. This has significantly reduced the costs of defending the High Court judgement.
Sandy has also applied for a Protective Cost Order – which should further reduce costs. The Council has asked that the Court defer a decision on the PCO, pending further representations. A decision is unlikely before February.
The Wandsworth Society and the Wandsworth Common Management Advisory Committee (the MAC) which have supported the case through the judicial review, have published a statement and said:
“The pro bono representation of Sandy’s case will be very helpful in reducing costs. But the Council has large pockets: it is evidently determined to reverse the High Court’s judgment, regardless of the negative impacts on the Common and for local residents, and the potential implications for the use of open spaces owned by local authorities elsewhere.
If the judgment is upheld, however, it could prove a ‘landmark’ judgment, given those wider implications. We will continue to seek assistance, in whatever form it can be given, in mounting a strong defence of what we believe was a sound judgment by the High Court”
The case has already cost nearly £70,000 and only half might be definitely reimbursed should the Council loose the appeal.
The appeal has recently been listed for hearing on either 18th or 19th April which, coincidentally, is 2 weeks before the Local Authority elections on 3rd May.