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court ref no: CO/0244/98 ...
court ref no: CO/0244/98

A last-ditch bid to block construction of the controversial Balsall Common Bypass near Coventry has failed in London's high court.

Berkswell Parish Council is implacably opposed to the bypass and has accused Solihull MBC of committing a criminal offence under a 200-year-old Act of Parliament by ripping out ancient hedgerows to make way for road-building.

But Mr Justice Sullivan yesterday dealt the parish council's campaign against the road a serious blow when he refused leave for a judicial review challenge to Solihull's grant of planning permission to itself in October last year.

The judge ruled that although the Berkswell Inclosure Act 1802 - which provided for the maintenance of ancient hedge rows in perpetuity - was 'arguably' still in force, it had not been 'a relevant planning consideration'.

The hedgerows, which may have been in place long before 1802, had already been removed when road-building began in February this year and any intervention by the court 'would serve no useful purpose whatsoever,' the judge added.

'Its a sad fact that ancient hedgerows once removed are impossible to replace', and there was also no evidence that the hedgerows concerned had been of 'any significant ecological value' in any event, he said.

'I am quite satisfied that, on the facts as they now stand, I should not grant leave as the point raised by this case is now academic.

'I quite understand the parish council is seeking to resolve a matter it considers of public interest. But it should have been quite clear that this application had become academic,' added the judge, ordering the parish council to pay the action's legal costs.

Robert Smith, chairman of the parish council, said later: 'We did a survey of public opinion and 94% of residents said they didn't want the bypass. The hedgerows were an important part of the local scene.'

He said the parish council would be taking legal advice on what step to take next.

The parish council's solicitor, John Dunkley, added: 'If the 1802 Act is still good law, which the judge said was arguable, then even though planning permission has been granted what Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council have done in removing the hedges may amount to a criminal offence.'

He said several local individuals had expressed interest of mounting private prosecutions against the council.

A spokesman for Solihull said a contract for construction of the road had already been entered into, adding: 'The council will proceed with its plans for construction of this road and disposal of housing land in accordance with the unitary development plan which represents the culmination of many years planning for this particular area.'

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