Ben Burgess move decision could be set for High Court challenge

Norwich-based farm machinery firm Ben Burgess says its proposed new headquarters at Swainsthorpe is

Norwich-based farm machinery firm Ben Burgess says its proposed new headquarters at Swainsthorpe is vital for the firm's future growth - but it has provoked angry opposition from neighbouring villagers. Pictured: A computer-generated image of the proposed HQ building. Picture: Ben Burgess - Credit: Ben Burgess

A company’s controversial bid to move its farm machinery headquarters is set for a High Court battle - after campaigners were granted permission for a judicial review of a council's decision.

Ben Burgess wants to move its base from near County Hall in Norwich to a new two-storey headquarters off the A140, near Swainsthorpe, with a planning application decision to be made by South Norfolk Council.

But, as highways authority, Norfolk County Council was consulted. Highways officers initially said they would recommend refusal, because a new junction on the A140 to serve the building would be against council policies.

They had said a new roundabout at an existing junction could overcome concerns, but when an amended scheme was lodged it was still for a standalone roundabout only serving the mooted headquarters.

Map displaying approximate location of potential Ben Burgess headquarters. Picture: Google

Map displaying approximate location of potential Ben Burgess headquarters. Picture: Google - Credit: Google

But. at a meeting of the Conservative-controlled council cabinet in September, councillors agreed not to object, saying the economic impact outweighed concerns and that the council’s director of highways and waste had said the proposed roundabout would be safe.

That prompted questions from opposition councillors at a scrutiny meeting.

Campaign group Saving Swainsthorpe and Swainsthorpe Parish Council questioned the legality and reasonableness of the cabinet's decision and launched a legal challenge.

And a judge has ruled their claims are "cogent and arguable" and has granted permission for a judicial review into the matter - which will determine whether the county council acted lawfully or not.

Mrs Justice Lang added: "Further, I am concerned that, following the cabinet’s intervention, the formal consultation response of September 28 did not reference the officers’ concerns about the access route chosen, from a highways perspective, nor explain the true reason why the defendant had decided not to object.

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"If it had done so, it would have assisted the local planning authority to weigh up the competing considerations for itself."

Robin Parkinson, from the Saving Swainsthorpe group, which has been campaigning against the plans, said: "It is fantastic that Mrs Justice Lang has said we have a 'cogent and arguable' case.

"It's a one-day hearing and we will do our best, through our barrister, to put up a good fight."

The company had previously said the Swainsthorpe site was the only viable option and that Norfolk could lose jobs if it had to relocate further afield.

A Norfolk County Council spokesperson said: "The High Court has granted permission for the parish council’s claim to go to a substantive hearing.

"This is likely to be some time in 2021. The council has submitted grounds of defence.”

The challenge comes just days after a judicial review found Norfolk County Council had acted unlawfully over changes it made to costs it charged disabled people.


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