BRITAIN’S top judges have saved Blackburn and Accrington shopping centres from the threat of ‘devastation’ by a proposed out-of-town retail park in a landmark ruling.
Jubilant traders and politicians yesterday celebrated the decision ending a ten-year legal battle with developer Peel Group over the future of the Whitebirk site near Rishton.
It is a massive boost for the redevelopment of Blackburn town centre where construction is starting on the £33 milliion Cathedral Quarter and £5 million bus station.
The UK Supreme Court threw out the last-ditch legal attempt by Peel to change Whitebirk into a £16 million shopping complex with food and fashion retailers.
The retail park currently only has planning permission to sell bulky, home improvement and electrical goods.
Blackburn with Darwen and Hyndburn councils together with traders feared Peel’s plans would devastate their own town centre regeneration proposals.
They faced a bill for legal costs of more than £500,000 and the possibility of a compensation claim running into millions if they had lost the case.
The judges ordered all parties’ lawyers bills be paid by Peel, the developer and part-owner of Manchester’s Trafford Centre.
Backed by The Mall Blackburn’s owners Capital and Regional, the local authorities held their nerve as Peel escalated the case after Hyndburn council refused planning permission for the change of use in 2005.
The firm took appealed to the planning inspectorate and then every court in the land over a decade.
It argued several smaller permissions amounted to approval for their scheme.
Blackburn MP Jack Straw said: “This is excellent news of national significance. This is an important victory for the two council in a David versus Goliath battle with Peel.
“Had Peel won and gone ahead, it would have devastated the two town centres and investment plans to revive them.
“I am delighted they held their nerve in the face Peel’s brow-beating tactics and possible legal costs of hundreds of thousands of pounds.
“It is good news for the regeneration of Blackburn town centre and for councils around Britain, setting a legal precedent which I shall seek to get enshrined in planning law before I retire as an MP in May.
“There were major store chains, including Marks and Spencer, waiting on this decision to make investment decisions.”
Blackburn Chamber of Trade President Tony Duckworth said: “This is really good news for the town and its traders. If Peel had won this protracted battle, the development of Whitebirk could have been devastating for both town centres.”
Blackburn with Darwen regeneration boss Maureen Bateson said: “I am absolutely delighted. This is an important victory for both our town centres.
“This ruling has vindicated our position. We, along with our partners, refused to be bullied by Peel.
“We are committed to regeneration so clearly we had to stand up for our town centres.
“We have already seen £80m investment in the extension of Blackburn Shopping Centre and the £33m scheme to transform Blackburn's Cathedral Quarter is underway.”
Mall general manager Loraine Jones,said: “We support town centre regeneration and believe this is where investment should be directed. We welcome the Supreme Court’s ruling.”
Capital and Regional director Mark Bourgeois said: "This ruling once and for all closes a loophole designed to circumvent town centre first policy and provides reassurance that town centre investment will be supported and protected.”
A Peel group spokesman said: “We are naturally disappointed with the ruling by the Supreme Court but our focus now is to move forward positively, as part of our long-standing commitment to Hyndburn.
“We have been investing heavily in important physical improvements to Hyndburn Retail Park and its accessibility. We are actively seeking new retailers who have requirements for retail park representation.
“It is our intention to secure a successful future for a very important facility.”
Local Government Association chairman David Sparks said: “This is a decision of national significance. Some organisations have been playing high stakes poker with the planning process.”
Hyndburn council leader Miles Parkinson and the borough’s MP Graham Jones hailed a ‘landmark decision’.
Blackburn with Darwen borough, Hyndburn council and Capital and Regional have all each spent more than £60,000 in legal costs which will now be paid by Peel whose lawyers bills are believed to be far higher.