High Court upholds decision to stop supermarket development near primary school

A council’s decision to stop the online retailer Ocado building a new 24/7 distribution centre next to a primary school has been upheld by the High Court.

In April 2019, Islington Council granted landowner Telereal Trillium a certificate of lawfulness (COL), which demonstrates that an existing use of land may continue, or that a proposed development does not require planning permission. Ocado then took out a 15-year lease on the site.

However, last year, Islington Council found that landowner Telereal Trillium had provided “false” information, allowing the authority to revoke the certificate. It essentially claimed that there would be no change of use, whereas the site had been unused for many years. 

Ocado’s claim for judicial review into the decision was quashed at a high court ruling this week, after Justice Holgate found that Telereal had “obtained a certificate to which it was not entitled on the basis of the information it provided and withheld”.

Campaign group Nocado said the judgment carried “significant implications for communities nationwide facing similar serious public health concerns with the rise of online retail depots”.

In June, Ocado raised £1bn in stocks and bonds to finance its expansion plans, expecting that the growth in online sales during the pandemic will become permanent. The firm, 50% of which is owned by Marks & Spencer, intends to open 12 local distribution centres alone in London this year. 

The campaigners warn that, as companies compete to offer same-day or even faster deliveries, more distribution centres could start to creep into less suitable, more residential areas.

A spokesperson for Nocado added: “The High Court’s support for the Council’s decision, is a damaging blow to Ocado’s broader strategy to develop its ‘Zoom’ one-hour delivery service.”

Ocado said it was “disappointed” with the judgment.

A spokesperson said: “Our proposals for the Bush Industrial Estate are to build the greenest and quietest grocery facility in the UK with a 100% electric van fleet. We remain committed to the Islington community, where we delivered to one in six households in 2020, and will continue to look at how we can deliver a better service to the borough and significantly reduce our emissions.”

Nocado has described these claims as “disingenuous” and notes that while Ocado dropped their initial plans for operating three diesel refueling pumps at the depot, their claims to electrify the site are “neither viable nor enforceable”.  

Nocado says it will now turn its attention to lobbying for changes to planning law to prevent corporations like Ocado abusing the planning system. Given the high profile of this case, the group has secured backing to fund a legacy programme to ensure that no other community has to go through this in the future.

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