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OFF-PITCH ANTICS

LEGAL

After a remarkably brief summer interlude, the neverending football season appears to be carrying on, writes Kim Franklin. Brighton & Hove Albion (the Seagulls), homeless since 1997, will continue to play at Withdean Stadium despite the best efforts of a neighbour, Mr Catt.

He recently went to the Administrative Court to challenge the City Council's planning decision allowing the Seagulls to remain at their temporary home. Among other things, Mr Catt attacked the absence of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). But he did not complain as speedily as he might have, and the judge commented on the effect of that delay.

Some might think that Mr Catt had good reason to complain. He bought his house, which stands in a quiet residential area by a nature reserve, six years ago. At that time the Seagulls had temporary permission to use nearby Withdean athletics stadium until 2001.

Subsequently permission was given for the team to use Withdean until 2003, and to add another 960 seats. After the Seagulls' promotion in 2002, the council gave them permission to continue to use the stadium until 2005, and to build a new stand and another 1,966 seats. It was this planning consent that Mr Catt sought to quash. At the time of the earlier temporary permissions the council had assumed that no EIA was needed. As part of the planning process condemned by Mr Catt, the council had obtained a screening opinion and concluded that no EIA was necessary.

Mr Catt had two complaints about the screening opinion. Firstly, he argued that the opinion should not have taken as its starting point only the works that were the subject of the then-current application, but should have dealt in the round with the overall effect of the use of the stadium for football. The judge agreed that it was the environmental impact of the whole that governed whether an EIA was needed, but concluded that the author of the opinion had considered that.

Secondly, Mr Catt said that it was wrong for the screening opinion to take into account measures to mitigate adverse effects, particularly traffic congestion, in deciding whether or not an EIA was needed. The judge disagreed and, having disposed of Mr Catt's two complaints, concluded that there had been no need for an EIA.

As for the delay, the Seagulls complained that, had Mr Catt's challenge succeeded, they would have been prejudiced, having carried out building work before he issued his challenge. The judge concluded that the delay would have defeated Mr Catt's complaint in any event. He held that the decision to adopt the screening opinion was a final decision that was capable of being judicially reviewed.

He rejected Mr Catt's argument that time should not run until the subsequent planning decision, the theory being that the decision not to order an EIA might be reversed up until then. So the three-month period in which to launch a judicial review of the screening opinion began as soon as the Council adopted it.

It now looks as though the Seagulls will remain at Withdean beyond 2008.

Having failed to beat them, perhaps poor Mr Catt will just have to go and get himself a blue-and-white scarf and blend in with the crowd.

Kim Franklin is a barrister and chartered arbitrator at Crown Office Chambers in London. Visit www.

crownofficechambers. com

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