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High Court blocks abolition of parish council

7 September 2011

The High Court has quashed the abolition of a parish council by Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council, which claimed that most people who lived in Offerton Park wanted it to be scrapped. Stockport has said it will appeal against the ruling.

Judge Raynor QC, sitting as a High Court judge at Manchester Civil Justice Centre, said it was “irrational” for Stockport to take the decision when the “majority of the electorate had not expressed themselves in favour either of abolition or retention”.

Delivering judgment in R (on the application of Offerton Park Parish Council) v Stockport MBC (case no CO/2646/2011), Judge Raynor said parish and town councils were the most local tier of government and the coalition had made clear it was committed to them.

He said the parish of Offerton Park was created as recently as 2001 and mostly made up of a housing estate built in the sixties.

The court heard that Stockport Council made an order abolishing the parish council and the parish itself in February this year.

The previous year, in July 2010, a poll of residents took place. On a turnout of less than 17 per cent of the electorate, 66 per cent voted in favour of abolition, while 34 per cent voted against.

Counsel for the parish council argued that Stockport’s decision was irrational, because the “only safe inference” to be drawn from the consultation exercises was that 75 per cent of the residents had no preference either way as to whether the parish council should be abolished or not.

Judge Raynor said that a petition from 500 residents was obtained by Stockport, making it clear that they welcomed abolition.

“However, that still amounts to only a small minority of the residents (approximately 14 per cent) or about 20 per cent of the electorate if the petitioners were electors.

“It has not been demonstrated to me, nor do I think it is rationally possible to conclude, that more than a minority of the electorate actually favour abolition.”

Judge Raynor said that, according to the guidance, an established tier of local government should only be abolished where it was shown to be clearly justified.

He concluded that, as a result, the decision to abolish was unlawful and must be quashed. Judge Raynor also rejected Stockport’s argument that there had been delay in bringing the judicial review. However, he did not agree with the parish council that the consultation was inadequate.

Eamonn Boylan, chief executive of Stockport Council, said the council would be issuing instructions to appeal against the ruling.

“The judgment has found no fault with the consultation,” Boylan said. “In every formal consultation exercise the majority of responses did not want the parish council to continue.

“The council has always acted in good faith and at all times in accordance with the clearly expressed desire of those responding to the consultation.”

Jeff Lewis, commercial litigation partner at Brabners Chaffe Street in Manchester, acted for Offerton Park Parish Council.

“There were no grounds for Stockport MBC’s view that the public generally favoured abolition, and we are pleased that the valuable services which the parish council provides can continue,” Lewis said.

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Local government Courts & Judiciary