Avon Nunn Mills, Northampton

Tue, 21 May 2013

Ian Dove QC and Hugh Richards succeed in resisting the compulsory purchase of land at Avon Nunn Mills, Northampton. 
 
The West Northamptonshire Development Corporation (“WNDC”) sought to compulsorily purchase brownfield land belonging to George Wimpey East Midlands Ltd and Persimmon Homes Limited (TWP) close to Northampton town centre.  Ian Dove QC and Hugh Richards were instructed to seek to have the CPO modified so as to exclude the TWP and other land but to have the remaining parts of the CPO confirmed in order to assist with the delivery of TWP-backed redevelopment proposals. 
 
The fact that the land needed regenerating was never in dispute and it had always been TWP’s intention to bring it forward for redevelopment. TWP had engaged with WNDC over many years and had secured planning permission for the construction of a ‘spine road’ to facilitate its development and that of a neighbouring landowner (Avon Cosmetics) for a residential-led mixed use scheme. However the line of the spine road included land in unknown ownership and no objection was made to the confirmation of this part of the CPO.
 
TWP objected to the wider CPO on grounds which included (1) that although there was a  need for regeneration of the land and wider area, WNDC had no specific proposals to advance, (2) that there were alternative proposals by the owners of the land  for regeneration (3) that the quality and time scale of both the WNDC’s regeneration proposals were inferior to those of TWP, so that (4)  regeneration was, on balance, more likely to be achieved if the CPO was confirmed in a modified form excluding the vast majority of TWP’s and Avon’s land. There was thus (5) no compelling case in the public interest for the confirmation of the wider CPO. 
 
As the inquiry opened, TWP and Avon also reached an agreement with the University of Northampton (“UoN”) under which UoN would purchase the Avon land, and ‘swap’ the TWP land for existing university campus land.  The UoN would then build a new single-campus university campus at Avon Munn Mills leaving TWP to pursue residential development on existing UON land.  There were thus two alternative regeneration schemes for the Secretary of State to consider.
 
The inquiry opened and WNDC called its main witness; it proposed to deliver a yet undefined regeneration scheme with a development partner to be selected through a EUJ procurement process.  There was then a series of adjournments while TWP, Avon, UoN and WNDC negotiated an acceptable outcome to recommend to the Secretary of State. 
 
The Inspector essentially agreed with TWP’s case: (1) there was a clear cut policy, socio-economic and environmental case for the regeneration of the area, (2) there were doubts over the deliverability of WNDC’s proposals which were themselves not firm, (3) in contrast, there were no identified impediments to the delivery of the TWP/Avon scheme and (4) there were no objections in principle to the scheme involving UoN.  Further (5) both alternatives were more advanced than anything advanced by WNDC in evidence so that regeneration ‘momentum’ was with the major landowners and not WNDC and it was more likely to be achieved through confirmation of the modified CPO than with the wider CPO.  Indeed the Inspector agreed with TWP that confirmation of the wider CPO would be likely to “frustrate the development process, introduce delays and compromise the objectives of regenerating the land.”      
 
The Inspector recommended in very clear terms that the compelling case in the public interest lay with confirming the modified CPO as TWP sought and not the original wider WNDC proposal.  To be fair to WNDC, by the end of the week-long negotiations, WNDC were similarly convinced.
 
The Secretary of State gave careful consideration to the Inspector’s report and the submissions of the parties. He accepted the Inspector’s findings and agreed with her conclusions. He accepted that a compelling case in the public interest for confirming the order, as modified, has been made and that only the modified CPO justified interfering with the human rights of the objectors under section 12(2)(A) of the Acquisition of Land Act 1981 and Article 1 of the First Protocol to the European Convention of Human Rights. 
 
The Secretary of State therefore decided to accept the Inspector’s recommendations and to confirm the West Northamptonshire Development Corporation (Avon Nunn Mills, Northampton) Compulsory Purchase Order 2010 with the modifications sought by TWP. The decision letter reference LDN023/M9570/006/001 is dated 29 April 2013.
 
Please click here to view the profiles of Ian Dove QC and Hugh Richards

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