Quinn Glass: judge hears arguments in plant consent case

Quinn Glass built Europe“s largest glass-making and bottling plant without planning permission and was well aware of the risk it was taking, a British judge heard on 6 March 2009.
Robert McCracken Q…

Quinn Glass built Europe“s largest glass-making and bottling plant without planning permission and was well aware of the risk it was taking, a British judge heard on 6 March 2009. Robert McCracken QC said the Irish firm built the plant near Chester, north-west England in 2005, although it knew full well that its entire investment was “at risk”. Planning permission has still not been granted almost four years after completion of the factory on a site previously occupied by a power station and Quinn“s sector rival, Ardagh Glass, is arguing at London“s High Court that the factory should be demolished. Irish-controlled and Jersey-based Ardagh argues that local planning authorities have no power to grant retrospective planning permission, because no Environmental Impact Assessment was carried out beforehand, as required by EU law. Mr McCracken, representing Ardagh, says the councils are under a legal obligation to immediately stop the factory from operating and issue an enforcement notice requiring its demolition. Ardagh“s challenge is being resisted by the councils with the backing of Quinn Glass, which says such draconian steps would be “disproportionate” and cause unnecessary suffering among a workforce of hundreds who would all lose their jobs. Mr McCracken claimed 6 March 2009 that Quinn Glass had in the past said that, if it did not receive planning permission for the plant, it would move the operation and its massively costly equipment to a site in northern France. Earlier, the judge was told that Ardagh is concerned that the four-year time limit for the councils to take enforcement action against the plant is due to expire in 2009 and then the factory will become “immune” to planning control. Vincent Fraser QC, for the councils, said the land on which the factory stands had been left contaminated by its former use for a power station and “at no stretch of the imagination could be called a greenfield site”. Planning consent was granted for a smaller glass manufacturing plant on the site in 2003 after full consideration of environmental issues. When Quinn Glass, in 2004, asked for permission to build a bigger factory, the council mistakenly took the view that this could be dealt with by “amendment” to the 2003 permission. “It was a mistake made in good faith and there was no question of the local planning authority ignoring the impact”, Mr Fraser said. The councils had considered taking enforcement action at an early stage after it became clear that the factory was being built without “express planning permission”. “Dealing perfectly properly with a difficult situation”, he said the councils decided that any impact on local people was not serious enough to make it “expedient” to order an end to the development. The plant construction, “substantially completed” in 2005, went ahead in line with the conditions attached to the original 2003 planning permission, although on a larger scale, and minimal numbers of complaints were received from local residents, the QC said. Mr Fraser says the councils are under no legal obligation to take enforcement action to remove the factory and are empowered to “retrospectively regularise” the position by granting Quinn Glass“s latest applications, subject to the secretary of state“s authorisation. Quinn Glass, which says it has acted with full sensitivity to the environment, put in its latest planning applications in February 2008 and the councils say their ruling on them is “imminent”.