Decision on Gartree super prison planning permission won’t be challenged by council

Published Thursday 14 December 2023

Harborough District Council will not challenge the Secretary of State’s decision to allow planning permission for a new Cat B prison adjacent to the current Gartree Prison, councillors have decided.

After considering an exempt report on the implications of starting legal proceedings, which included advice from King’s Counsel, councillors voted in a private session not to allocate funding for a statutory challenge at a Full Council meeting on 11 December 2023.

Councillors were asked to consider the potential grounds on which the council may seek to challenge the Secretary of State’s decision letter in which the appeal was allowed, along with the prospects of such a challenge being successful.

Although the decision to commence legal proceedings in this case is a decision for Cabinet, Full Council is required to decide whether to allocate funding from the council's’ reserves to finance the legal proceedings, therefore amending the Budget and Policy Framework.

A council spokesperson said: “Harborough District Council wanted to fully explore the option of a legal challenge and funded advice from King’s Counsel (KC) on the matter. Unfortunately, KC advised that no grounds for a challenge have been identified. 

"The council’s Chief Finance Officer also advised that allocation of funding for this legal challenge would not meet the fiduciary duties of the council. The council recognises that the decision not to allocate funding for a legal challenge was a difficult one and there is a lot of concern about the new prison in the community. It is disappointing that the council’s decision to refuse planning permission was overturned, but we also recognise that there is no reasonable chance of being successful in a legal challenge.”

In April 2022, Harborough District Council refused a planning application on the grounds of unsustainable location; harm to the character and appearance of the landscape and harm to an area designated as an Area of Separation.

An appeal was brought by the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), and arrangements were made for the appeal to be heard at a public inquiry in October 2022, which was recovered for the Secretary of State’s determination in September 2022. A public inquiry was held in October 2022 and the Inspector’s Report was published in January 2023.

The Secretary of State’s Decision Letter in which planning permission was allowed was issued on 15 November 2023.