County launches judicial review to thwart Exeter's unitary bid

DEVON County Council is today launching a judicial review of the Government s decision to implement a unitary authority for Exeter.

DEVON County Council is today launching a judicial review of the Government's decision to implement a unitary authority for Exeter.

Last week the Local Government Minister Rosie Winterton announced the creation of a new unitary city council for Exeter despite admitting it failed to fulfil her own affordability criteria.

It was later revealed that Ministers had overruled their own top official in making the decision.

Peter Housden, the permanent secretary at the Department of Communities and Local Government, said he was concerned about the value for money and feasibility of the proposal.

In a letter to his political boss John Denham, he wrote: "Your proposed approach of implementing a unitary Exeter and Norwich would be a departure from the criteria.

"My clear legal advice is that the risk of decisions for a unitary Exeter and Norwich being successfully challenged in judicial review proceedings is very high."

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A judicial review is a form of court proceeding in which a judge reviews the lawfulness of a decision by a public body.

It is a challenge to the way the decision has been made and is not really concerned with the conclusions of the process and whether they were 'right' or 'wrong' as long as the law has been correctly applied and the right procedures have been followed.

Devon County Council leader John Hart said today: "We have clear legal advice that there is a substantial case to be made against the Government for the cavalier way they took this decision.

"I have thought long and hard about whether to launch a judicial review or not.

"Legal proceedings are always expensive. But in this case I believe it is incumbent on Devon County Council to mount this challenge.

"If this unwanted reorganisation is forced through, the cost to the council taxpayers of both Exeter and Devon will be multiplied many times over.

"This Government is trying to ride roughshod over the people of Devon and Exeter, ignoring its own rules and engaging in shoddy practices for political gain.

"Even the department's own top civil servant warns that they are likely to lose a legal challenge.

"Someone has to stand up to them and call a halt to this political manoeuvring.