THE £250,000 estimate by Waverley of its legal bill for the Brightwells judicial review triggered a heated debate at a meeting of the full council last week.
Councillors were presented with a recommendation by Waverley’s executive committee, agreed in September, to allocate £250,000 “initially” to cover the legal costs incurred by the council in defending its decision to proceed with the Brightwells scheme. Waverley has already incurred costs of £20,000.
But opposition group Farnham Residents councillor and long-time Brightwells-sceptic Jerry Hyman objected to Waverley setting aside such a large sum and attempted to amend the recommendation to limit the allocation to £30,000.
“I’m not happy we agree £230,000 on top of £20,000,” said the party leader, attending his first full council meeting since his election in August. “Agreeing £250,000 is not what any council should do.”
A string of Tory councillors spoke out to oppose Mr Hyman’s amendment and officers also responded to say allocating a further £30,000 “won’t be sufficient”.
Farnham Hale councillor Denise Le Gal protested Mr Hyman’s proposal was “substantially different and so not an amendment” and Haslemere councillor Stephen Mulliner said the committee should “recognise it was not a worthy amendment”, adding Waverley’s recommendation was “entirely proper”.
When asked if he would insist on his amendment, Mr Hyman backed down. “It’s a waste of time when the decision has clearly been made by members,” he responded. “I withdraw the amendment.”
The recommendation was agreed overwhelmingly when it went to the vote, but many councillors spoke out to regret the judicial review’s cost to council tax payers.
Wonersh councillor Mike Goodridge said: “I resent spending tax payers money and the £250,000 we have to defend the judicial review but I recognise it must be strenuously defended.
“The judicial review was ill advised and will potentially delay a development which the majority in Farnham would like to happen.”
Members clapped Farnham Bourne councillor Martin Lear when he said: “I’m baffled when we hear this group address it as some sort of armageddon. I’m happy to spend whatever it takes to win the argument.”
Responding to Mr Hyman’s objection, Farnham councillor Wyatt Ramsdale said: “It’s decidedly normal to get the best estimate of the worst case situation. To identify the worst case scenario could cost £250,000 is what all good councils do.”
Mr Hyman’s fellow Farnham Residents councillor John Williamson left the council chamber prior to the debate after declaring an interest, citing his direct involvement in the judicial review claim against Waverley’s handling of the Brightwells scheme.
It comes after Mr Hyman warned Waverley’s executive the £250,000 could be “just the beginning” should it lose the judicial review in the High Court next year.
“There is obvious concern among residents that the amount may double to half a million or more,” he said in September, questioning whether the sum includes the possible award of costs to the judicial review claimants, led by the Farnham Interest Group (FIG), and the legal costs of its Brightwells development partner Crest Nicholson.
He added: “Of course, if Waverley lose then Crest also won’t be contributing the promised £800,000 towards the Memorial Hall works, so is the recommendation we’re looking at tonight the beginning of a £2m bill?”
A preliminary hearing to test the claimants’ standing to initiate a judicial review is set to be heard in the High Court on January 31, 2017.
The review centres around Waverley’s decision in May this year to amend the Brightwells development agreement to the financial benefit of Crest.