Hartleyburn Parish Council faces huge legal bill

A tiny parish council in Northumberland is faced with finding upwards of £10,000 after losing a high court battle with an opencast developer

Residents of Halton Lea Gate
Residents of Halton Lea Gate

Hartleyburn Parish Council, in the South West of the county, sought a judicial review of a planning inspector’s decision to allow an appeal by HM Project Developments (HMPD) in relation to its proposed opencast mine at Halton Lea Gate.

Yet the council, which at the 2011 census served a population of just 182 people, failed in its bid.

It has now been ordered to pay £10,000 as well as its own costs.

The parish last night said it was still in talks with its legal firm over how the bill would be paid, with talk of an increased precept – tax on members of the parish – or a loan from Northumberland County Council, unless a “secret millionaire” is found.

A planning application to dig 140,000 tonnes of coal at the site for three and a half years was thrown out by the county council in May 2011.

But the scheme was then given the green light by a planning inspector last August, following a public inquiry.

In September last year, the parish council sought a High Court judicial review of the inspector’s decision. Three months later, HMPD asked for the challenge to be dismissed.

Recently, a judge at the High Court in Leeds ruled in favour of the developer.

Last night, a spokeswoman at the High Court revealed the parish has been asked to pay £6,000 towards the developer’s costs, £4,000 to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government as well as its own expenses – the cost of employing a barrister from Cambridge firm Richard Buxton.

No deadline was set for the payments by the court.

Parish council chairman Wendy Green last night said the council had been “absolutely gutted” by the decision.

She said it is in talks with its barristers over how the bill might be paid, but said local people had been “very helpful.”

“We are only a little tiny village – people have not got thousands of pounds, have they? It has just been what we can raise locally. Someone coming along with £10,000 would be really nice.”

The councillor said the parish did not regret seeking the review and that members “wanted to do everything we could”.

Coun Green said the parish would continue to fight the opencast scheme, with an application to amend the approved details currently with the county council.

County councillor for Haltwhistle, Ian Hutchinson, said the parish would have to increase its precept. He said he is looking into whether the authority might give a loan although this would have to be approved by the Secretary of State, as well as the council. Coun Hutchinson said: “They are open to offers from a secret millionaire.”

HMPD declined to comment.

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