By Ian Onions, Political Editor / email@example.com
Court papers were expected to be served on Bristol City Council today in the latest twist on the future of Ashton Vale, where a 30,000-seat stadium is planned.
The move means the council’s “split site” town green decision in June will now be subject to a legal challenge.
The Evening Post exclusively revealed two weeks ago that the issue was likely to be taken to court and could take months to resolve.
Earlier last month, it emerged that former city councillor Alderman Peter Crispin wanted to seek a judicial review against the council’s decision.
But at that stage, the matter had only gone as far as a letter by Mr Crispin to the council’s chief executive, Jan Ormondroyd.
Now the council has received documents from lawyers which make clear that an application for a judicial review is being made.
The council is expecting to receive court papers today confirming that an application has been submitted.
Mr Crispin, a former Labour councillor who represented Bedminster ward for many years is spokesman for SAVE – Save Ashton Vale’s Environment – which is mounting the legal challenge.
He said the move was a result of the anger following the town green decision by the council’s Public Rights of Way committee.
Councillors at the meeting agreed to register the southern section of the site as a town green but not the former landfill tip in the north of the site where a new £92 million stadium for Bristol City FC would be built.
The decision followed a recommendation one year ago by an independent inspector to register the entire 42-acre site as a town green.
Mr Crispin told the Post: “It is almost unheard of for an independent inspector’s recommendation not to be approved, unless it can be shown that it is severely flawed. After all, if they are not going to abide by her recommendation, what’s the point of commissioning her in the first place?
“Secondly, the committee took its decision as a result of additional evidence which was supplied by the club. But we believe this additional evidence should be tested in court so it can be subjected to cross-examination in the same way that the applicants for the town green had their evidence tested at the public inquiry.”
Mr Crispin said “too much weight” had been given to the additional evidence and they felt they had no alternative means of redress except to seek a judicial review.
Mr Crispin said the pressure group was supported by many of the residents who originally applied for town green status at Ashton Vale to protect the site from any development.
A judicial review can only examine the process by which a decision was made – not the decision itself. A judge will now have to decide at a court hearing whether to give permission for a review to go ahead.
If he does not, then the legal proceedings could end within a matter of a few weeks. But if he does, then the issue could drag on for months. If successful, then it would scupper hopes of building a new stadium at Ashton Vale.
A review can only be directed against the council which made the decision, not the club or the landowners which includes former club chairman Steve Lansdown.
The club and the landowners declined to comment.
But the council stressed it would “vigorously” defend its decision.
A council spokesman said: “The decision taken by the Public Rights of Way committee on June 16 was lawful and proper.”
“The council will therefore oppose this application vigorously.
At the council meeting in June, Will Godfrey, the council’s strategic director, said it was right for him to consider the additional evidence because it was important to reach a fair decision and this could only be done by examining all the information that was available.
He said on the balance of probabilities, the northern area of the site did not pass the test for being registered as a town green because during the past 20 years, it had been used as a land tip or was in the process of remediation.
He said the southern part of the site did pass the test and therefore should be registered.
The issue over town green status is the last major hurdle to overcome before the new £92 million stadium can go ahead.