QUINN GLASS built Europe’s largest glass-making and bottling factory without planning permission and was well aware of the risk it was taking, a British judge was told yesterday.
Robert McCracken QC said the Irish firm put up the factory near Chester in 2005, although it knew full well that its entire investment was “at risk”.
Almost four years after completion of the factory, on the site of a former power station at Elton, there is still no planning permission in place, and Quinn’s trade rival, Ardagh Glass, is arguing at London’s High Court that the factory should be levelled.
Ardagh, Irish-controlled and Jersey-based, argues that local planning authorities have no power to grant retrospective planning permission, because no Environmental Impact Assessment – required by EU law – was carried out at the outset.
Mr McCracken, representing Ardagh, says the councils are legally obliged to immediately stop the factory from operating and issue an enforcement notice requiring its demolition.
Ardagh’s challenge is being resisted by the councils with the backing of Quinn Glass, which says such draconian steps would be “disproportionate” and cause unnecessary suffering among a workforce of hundreds who would all lose their jobs.
Mr McCracken claimed yesterday that Quinn Glass had in the past said that, if it did not receive planning consent for the factory, it would strip the plant of all its massively costly equipment and move the operation to northern France.
Earlier, the judge was told that Ardagh is concerned that the four-year time limit for the councils to take enforcement action against the plant is due to expire this year and then the factory will become “immune” to planning control.
Vincent Fraser QC, putting the councils’ case, said the land on which the factory stands had been left contaminated by its former use for a power station and “at no stretch of the imagination could be called a greenfield site”.
Planning consent had been granted for a smaller glass manufacturing plant on the site in 2003 after full consideration of environmental issues. When Quinn Glass, in 2004, asked for permission to build a bigger factory, the council mistakenly took the view that this could be dealt with by “amendment” to the 2003 permission.
“It was a mistake made in good faith and there was no question of the local planning authority ignoring the impact,” Mr Fraser said.
The councils had considered taking enforcement action at an early stage after it became clear that the factory was being built without “express planning permission”. “Dealing perfectly properly with a difficult situation”, he said the councils decided that any impact on local people was not serious enough to make it “expedient” to order an end to the development.
The factory construction, “substantially completed” in 2005, went ahead in line with the conditions attached to the original 2003 planning permission – although on a larger scale – and minimal numbers of complaints were received from local residents, the QC said.
Mr Fraser says the councils are under no legal obligation to take enforcement action to remove the factory and are empowered to “retrospectively regularise” the position by granting Quinn Glass’s latest applications, subject to the secretary of state’s authorisation.
Quinn Glass, which says it has acted with full sensitivity to the environment, put in its latest planning applications in February last year and the councils say their ruling on them is “imminent”.
The case continues.