Judicial review joy for Great Ryburgh lorry park campaigners

The David v Goliath struggle between Great Ryburgh families, planning decision-makers and the experts who advised them over a maltings expansion scheme has taken a major new twist after villagers were given the nod to seek a judicial review.

The high court has told campaigners they can press ahead with their efforts to seek the review against North Norfolk District Council and also Natural England, the public body that exists to protect and improve the nation's natural environment.

Ryburgh Village Amenity Group spokesman Matthew Champion reacted to the news by saying: 'I think 'guardedly happy' is the way to describe it.

'It is a milestone, and certainly the direction in which we want to go.'

'We are just very, very pleased that a judge looked at both our cases and decided it was worth us pursuing them.'

But he said the saga would continue for weeks, probably months and that villagers were building up their fighting fund to amass the �15,000-�20,000 they expected to need.

The court ruling relates to the decision taken by North Norfolk's development committee last September to grant planning consent for major expansion of the Crisp Malting Group complex that dominates the Wensum Valley village.

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The scheme had been referred back to members after consent had previously been granted for a lorry park, wash bay, earth bank, fuel storage and two new silos. Councillors voted by 10-2 in favour of expansion despite opposition from the parish council and, say objectors, more than 1,000 local people.

The campaigners, co-ordinated by the amenity group, sought leave to challenge the council's 'Yes' decision. The group says the development would expand the Crisp site by almost half again and that the proposed lorry park - substituting one on brownfield land at Hempton - would entail destroying more than eight acres of meadows and grassland and could harm the Wensum's precious ecosystem.

Also significant in the campaigners' case is the weight they believe was afforded by committee members to the government's draft National Planning Policy Framework. Published last July and out to consultation until the following October, this was described as a key part of the coalition's reforms to make the planning system less complex and more accessible, while promoting growth.

The draft framework reduced 1,000 pages of national policy to nearer 50 and encouraged planning authorities to favour business and new homes developments. But the Ryburgh group insists Crisp's scheme seeks merely to increase business efficiency on greenfield land without job creation, business development and housing gains.

Mr Champion said: 'The village doesn't want an eight-acre lorry park, but local wishes don't appear to carry any weight under this new draft framework.'

The Ryburgh campaigners must now lodge a full application within the next three weeks, when the matter will go before a high court judge to decide the way forward.

North Norfolk council's cabinet member for planning policy, Keith Johnson, said that, since the matter had now moved to the high court, it would be inappropriate to comment. But he added that the authority would respect any decision the court made.