In an important decision for local democracy, the High Court has upheld the right of residents of a Cheshire town to cast their votes in a referendum, the result of which will have a critical impact on the scale of housing developments in the area.

Various proposals to build more than 300 new homes in and around the town had caused great local controversy. In those circumstances, the local authority agreed that the local neighbourhood plan (NP), as amended to take account of the recommendations of an independent examiner, should be put to a referendum.

The referendum resulted in a majority vote in favour of endorsing the NP, which would comprise an important part of the local development plan for the purposes of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004. However, adoption of the NP was held in abeyance pending the outcome of a judicial review challenge brought by would-be developers of housing in the area.

In rejecting the developers’ complaints, the Court found that the local authority had carried out an adequate strategic environmental assessment and was entitled to conclude that the basic conditions for a referendum were met. Arguments that there had been an appearance of bias on the part of the examiner were also dismissed on the basis that an independent and fair-minded observer would have had no doubts about his impartiality.