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630 jobs at risk at Glass Factory plant near Chester

Post Time:Apr 10,2009Classify:Company NewsView:997

HUNDREDS of jobs at a glass plant near Chester are in the melting pot again today.

A leading judge has ordered a new council to take enforcement action against Europe's largest glass making and bottling factory - employing 630 staff but built without planning permission.

Construction of Quinn Glass Ltd's giant factory on the former site of a power station at Elton was completed in 2005, but still there is no planning consent in place, London's High Court heard.

And Judge David Mole QC said yesterday he agreed with a resident that it would be "disgraceful" if Quinn Glass were allowed to escape the consequences of the multi-million-pound risk they took.

"It would be a betrayal by the planning authorities of their responsibilities and a disgrace upon the proper planning of this country," he told London's High Court.

Judge Mole ordered Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) planners to issue enforcement notices against Quinn Glass within 14 days and directed that they must require the removal of all the Quinn Glass buildings put up without planning consent and the "cessation of activities" on the site. "No less than that would meet the point", he said.

Quinn Glass employ hundreds of local workers on the site. However, the company can still appeal to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Hazel Blears, against stop notices and she will also have power to grant retrospective planning consent.

The case was brought to court by Quinn Glass's bitter trade rivals, Ardagh Glass Ltd. Ardagh argued the factory's very existence is a violation of both domestic and European law, which demands that planning consent must not be given for such projects without first carrying out a detailed Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).

Dublin-based Ardagh Glass, formerly Rockware Glass, argued that, not only should enforcement action now be taken, but planners at Chester City Council and Ellesmere Port and Neston Borough Council should be forbidden from considering Quinn Glass's latest retrospective planning application.

But Judge Mole refused to go that far, giving Quinn glass a chance to persuade Mrs Blears that the enforcement notices should be quashed and planning consent granted. However, that can only happen after a detailed public inquiry at which the environmental impact of the plant must be carefully considered.

Judge Mole said he "anticipated" Quinn Glass would now appeal to Mrs Blears, but added that it was vital to make clear that a developer would "gain no advantage by pre-emptive development and that such development will be permitted only in exceptional circumstances".

In considering Quinn Glass's appeal, the judge said Mrs Blears, in order to uphold EU law, would have to consider "whether granting permission would give the developer an advantage that ought to be denied, whether the public can be given an equal opportunity to form and advance their views and whether the circumstances can be said to be exceptional.

"There will be no advantage to the pre-emptive developer where the Secretary of State ensures that he gains no improper advantage and he knows he will be required to remove his development unless he can demonstrate that exceptional circumstances justify its retention."

The judge refused to hold that retrospective planning permission could not now be lawfully granted for the factory, but said that EU law obligations would have to be carefully taken into account, whatever procedure is now adopted by Miss Blears in dealing with the issue.

The responsibilities of Chester City Council and Ellesmere Port and Neston Borough Council were taken over by CWaC on April 1 and it will now be up to the new council to take the enforcement action ordered by the court.

Lawyers for Quinn Glass had pointed out in court that planning consent had earlier been obtained for a smaller plant on the site and defended the factory as good news for local jobs and "for the UK economy in general" in the midst of a recession.

Reacting to the Judge Mole's decision, a spokesman for Quinn Glass said: "Since Chester City Council initially issued planning permission in 2003 this process has been beset by numerous legal challenges from Ardagh in order to delay the local planning authorities.

"In mid-February this year Chester City Council were poised to formally consider Quinn Glass's current planning application which was submitted in January 2008. However, they had little option but to defer consideration as a result of this latest court challenge by Ardagh in an effort to stop the Quinn Glass plant.

"The judge dismissed Ardagh's argument that under EC law planning permission cannot be granted retrospectively and did not support their demands for an immediate stop notice.

"The judge ordered that for a large multi-faceted development such as Quinn Glass, the local planning authorities should serve an enforcement notice in order to ensure that the local authority's regulatory powers continue to be available.

This follows the precautionary principle under European law.

"Obviously this is a huge disappointment for Ardagh who have sought leave to appeal the judgement, presumably in a further attempt to frustrate the planning process. As all three parties have been granted leave to appeal the Court of Appeal will reconsider all points.

"Quinn Glass believes this judgment now clears the way for a determination of its current planning application and looks forward to having this matter finally resolved."

Quinn Glass has made an application to the court for costs.
CWaC Cllr Mike Jones said today : "We have now received the judge's ruling with its potential implications for the area.

"The Order of the High Court in respect of enforcement will, of course, be carried out within the correct time-scale.

"However, we are delighted to see Judge David Mole agreed with the planning authority's long-held contention that is has the jurisdiction to deal in retrospect with the current planning application from Quinn Glass.

"We now anticipate considering this complex application based strictly on its planning merits."

Over the next few days the council and its legal advisors will examine the judgement in detail and the issue will be considered in due course by Cheshire West and Chester Council's strategic planning board.

Cllr Jones added: "We are, however, keeping all our options open. The court has made a crucial finding as to when it considers substantial completion of the Quinn Glass plant occurred. We have sought leave to appeal this funding if considered necessary."

Ellesmere Port and Neston MP Andrew Miller, whose constituency takes in Quinn Glass, said today: "I am confident that this innovative company will go from strength to strength.

"I only wish that their competitors Ardagh Glass would put as much into innovation as they have into trying to stop fair competition.

"This case is important both in terms of the hundreds of local jobs but also, should Ardagh win, there would be enormous damage to the country as no-one would invest through fear of costly legal attacks from established companies."

Source: chestereveningleader.co.ukAuthor: shangyi

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