Senior Wrexham councillors launched failed Judicial Review against Welsh Government over Local Development Plan
Three senior Wrexham councillors attempted a Judicial Review against Welsh Government over the Local Development Plan, a Freedom of Information request has revealed.
The Judicial Review “challenged the decision by the Welsh Government not to endorse the ‘no’ votes by Council”.
As we have been documenting the Local Development Plan would formally allocate land across Wrexham where it is likely several thousand new houses could be built along with preferred sites across the county borough for retail and employment developments. Councillors first voted and threw out the LDP after it came back from the Inspector having been found ‘sound’, however following the progression of a threat of legal action a second vote was then held re-running the same plan and information on it, with the same decision reached but with an increased majority.
It has now been publicly revealed that an ill fated Judicial Review was later launched over the summer by three cross party councillors – Council Leader Mark Pritchard, Cllr Hugh Jones and Cllr Marc Jones. Significantly they are all Group Leaders, with the Independents and Conservatives who run the council making unusual allies with Plaid Cymru on the matter, and speaking with several councillors in their groups it appears the legal action had wide support.
However, the bid by the three councillors failed as it was done under the name of ‘Wrexham Council’ – something the authority’s Legal Officer says lacked ‘lawful authority’. Councillors involved appear to believe they were acting as ‘the council’, rather than individuals.
A previously secret report sent privately to all councillors dated October 3 has now been released by Wrexham Council following an Freedom of Information request by Wrexham.com
All councillors were confidentially told at the time: “In August 2023 legal proceedings were commenced in the name of Wrexham County Borough Council by three elected members without any express or implied power to do so.
“As a result of legal advice obtained by the Monitoring Officer, all councillors need to be informed of the current position in terms of good governance and transparency in relation to the legal proceedings.”
The three councillors were named to all councillors.
The FOI response received from Wrexham Council had three sections blacked out, however opening the PDF in a simple editing software meant the plaintext beneath a black box was visible.
A day after sending the full response with names visible Wrexham Council sent a second copy, with hard redactions in place.
The report states: “Councillors filed a judicial review application (JR2) in court in the name of ‘Wrexham County Borough Council’.
“The judicial review application was against the Welsh Ministers in relation to the LDP, challenging the decision by the Welsh Government not to endorse the ‘no’ votes by Council. Council officers were not informed at the time.”
The Council’s Legal Officer told all councillors the “proceedings were issued without lawful authority”, with the proceedings being referred to as Judicial Review 2 / JR2 – as there is another one underway from six developers.
The Legal Officer also noted: “The three councillors did not seek advice from council officers on their proposed course of action before instructing an external solicitor to issue proceedings.
“The external solicitor is not on the Council’s framework for legal instructions and has acted against the Council in previous judicial review proceedings representing members of the public. The outcome of the previous proceedings was unsuccessful, with their clients having to pay the Council’s costs.”
On 3 October Wrexham.com placed a separate Freedom of Information request for a copy of all Motions received by WCBC for acceptance to Full Council, accepted or otherwise, for the year to date.
Wrexham Council responded saying they only had two, one on ‘Get me Home Safely’ campaign and the other on the Fire and Rescue Authority consultation.
In the confidential October 3 report to all councillors the Legal Officer said: “The three councillors also submitted a Notice of Motion for consideration by Council on 27 September 2023, seeking approval of their unauthorised actions in retrospect and for the Council to pay the costs of instructing external legal advisors along with the defendant’s (Welsh Government) costs in the event the JR2 application was unsuccessful.”
The Motion was ‘received’ and acted upon with the Legal Officer taking external King’s Counsel advice – confirming Wrexham Council’s view that: “There is no delegation to Members to institute and conduct court proceedings in the name of the Council.
“The role of the (redacted) cannot override an express and unambiguous delegation”.
The Motion that the council says does not exist is further referred to, with all councillors told: “The Notice of Motion sought Council approval to endorse the issuing of court proceedings started by the three councillors. It would have been unlawful to make such a decision” adding “The Notice of Motion was withdrawn before the publication of the Council Agenda”.
Wrexham.com has asked Wrexham Council to review their FOI response when clearly there is a third Motion, when they claimed there were just two.
Wrapping up the confidential October 3 narrative report to all councillors the Legal Officer tells them: “On 27 September 2023 the Monitoring Officer was notified that a Notice of Discontinuance had been served on the Welsh Government.
“This does not end the three councillors liability for the legal costs of the Welsh Government incurred in dealing with the claim.”
“Additional officer time has been spent on dealing with the judicial review proceedings filed by the three councillors and the Notice of Motion.
“Additional legal costs have been incurred by the Council totalling £6500 plus VAT to date.”
The Legal Officer ended by stating: “The role of the statutory officers is to serve the whole Council, not just the 56 elected members.
“These events have financial and reputational implications for Wrexham County Borough Council.”
The full FOI response published by Wrexham Council can be viewed in this PDF.
Welsh Government declined to answer questions on the matter, including if costs incurred would be recovered, stating ‘there is litigation on going’.
With the Legal Officer appearing to inform members that three named councillors acted ‘without lawful authority’ we asked Wrexham Council what was being done, and if any costs incurred would be recovered.
Wrexham Council offered a ‘no comment’ to questions on the matter.
More over the coming days…
(The LDP saga in our archives here)
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