Injunction bid from community group fails to halt decision

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THE BLUE Flash Music Trust, which has long campaigned for the town hall to be used for community use only, launched an injunction against the council last Thursday as well as a call for a judicial review.

The injunction would have prevented the council making a decision on the Old Town Hall at Tuesday’s meeting, while the judicial review challenged their original decision to re-market the hall.

However High Court judge Mr Justice Mitting refused both cases.

A statement from Horsham District Council said: “In dismissing the application for an injunction, he said that Mr Mayfield had delayed unreasonably in making the application.

“Also that Mr Mayfield had shown no evidence that he had the means to back his undertaking to compensate the council for loss if the urgent injunction was subsequently found to be unjustified.”

Robert Mayfield, spokesman for the trust, said: “Unfortunately we were mistaken in believing that to sell the Old Town Hall was a ‘new and emerging policy’ of the council and also that the controversy raging over the last six years signalled a ‘major policy issue’.

“However, the council successfully argued that this was instead a ‘one off decision’.

“The implications of the judgement is that the cabinet can sell off any town asset such as the Old Town Hall or Broadbridge Heath Leisure Centre without the need for any consultation in order to feather the council nest or subsidise their own rural areas.

“The council can also now legitimately bypass any agreement such as the Memorandum of Understanding with the three neighbourhood councils in the unparished areas by simply arguing that any decision taken by them is not a ‘policy of the council’.

“There was slight confusion over the delay in making our application for an injunction in that this was only raised the day after the council report was published on the internet i.e. last Thursday.

“We could not know what the council intended at Tuesday’s council meeting until this point.

“We were actually questioning the whole process rather than the fact that we were excluded from it.

“The same process was also criticised by the District Auditor in her letter of 21st December 2010 to the council.

“However, there is no scope for appeal as the council would be able to sign any agreement before any appeal was heard.

“The judge’s point about being able to potentially compensate parties for any losses arising from the injunction is a valid one that is if the J King option was chosen.

“However, it would not apply to the selection of Bill’s Produce we believe.

“In our view, it would not be possible for Bill’s to argue any delay because they effectively delayed themselves by three years.

“They walked away from the signed agreement previously because they did not make the desired profits in the first ten weeks at their Reading branch.

“Bill’s had the opportunity to waive this clause in the agreement with Horsham but declined.”

County Times sources said this week that the cost of the BFMT high court challenges have cost the tax payer at least £170,000.

This includes fees paid to the district auditor to investigate Mr Mayfield’s objections to HDC’s accounts, the cost of external legal advice to deal with judicial reviews and the loss of two years’ rent as a result of the decision being delayed.

The newspaper believes this figure does not take account of the hundreds of hours of senior council officers’ time, which if costed would run to tens of thousands of pounds.