WREXHAM Council has been ordered by a Judge to adopt its Local Development Plan after two attempts to reject it were quashed.

A requirement of local authorities by the Welsh Government, Wrexham’s proposed plan was drafted to allocate sites where around 8,000 homes and major developments could be built in the county borough.

It went out to public consultation five years ago before being examined and tweaked by the government and independent inspectors who deemed the plan sound to adopt earlier this year.

But it was twice rejected by councillors in April and June, amid concerns about some of the sites included in it and the overall impact on the city’s infrastructure.

A consortium of developers brought a Judicial Review, which took place at the Cardiff Civil Justice Centre on Wednesday (November 29).

In her opening statements Ms Morag Ellis KC, acting on behalf of the developers, told the court: "The claimants are developers, all of whom have interests in sites allocated for development in the draft LDP.

"This is an important case because of the scale of those developments my clients wish to pursue.

"In some cases, planning applications are outstanding. Everything is waiting on the adoption of the LDP.

"Given the quantum of development represented by those sites, it is an important case not only for my clients - but for the borough as a whole."

Nobody attended the hearing to speak on behalf of Wrexham Council.

Ms Ellis KC continued: "The first decision was made on April 19 - when the full council resolved not to adopt the LDP.

"We submit that decision was unlawful and we applied to the court for permission to bring the claim.

"What happened next? The second resolution [to not adopt the plan] of the council on June 14.

"The stated reason for that decision was 'to uphold local democracy' and it will be my submission that the stated reason betrays an unlawful approach - a misunderstanding of the legislative scheme."

Ms Ellis said that under the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act, the council "must prepare a plan with a lot of preliminary stages and much consultation with the public, adjoining authorities and all who have a proper interest in plan-making."

That was the point for such democracy, she said, adding: "Where the council went wrong was thinking local democracy came into play at a much later stage than it actually does."

This is because there comes a "watershed moment" in the process of adopting an LDP, she explained - where the plans must be submitted to Welsh Ministers and planning inspectors for independent examination.

Beyond that point, the plan is "in the hands of ministers and inspectors" - in that the law states they have the power to modify the plans and compel local authorities to comply with the changes.

The council must also comply with the wishes of Ministers and inspectors with regards to withdrawing or not adopting plans, the court heard - otherwise they must implement a finalised LDP within eight weeks.

Were this not the case, local authorities would have the ability to simply leave their LDP "sitting there in limbo" indefinitely.

Ms Ellis KC said while Welsh Ministers do in fact have step-in powers to implement policy in this regard, in reality they are "reluctant to use such powers because of concerns about local democracy."

"The Ministers' powers only arise when something's gone badly wrong," she explained.

"Now, we submit something has gone badly wrong here."

She explained the council had gone against the expert advice of its own chief legal officer and "three lots" of external legal advice in coming to its decision.

"This matter is urgent," Ms Ellis KC continued.

"There are undetermined planning applications which have been frozen because of this LDP issue and a lot of economic development in the plan which the [council] members have refused twice to adopt in accordance with the national plan.

"The members here have just been pursuing a course to delay the evil moment for as long as possible and they are doing so for their own political reasons.

"If it is left open ended without a date, it's fairly easy to infer from what's gone on that there will be continued procrastination and a continuing breach of the law."

Judge Justice Eyre KC responded: "If you are right on the interpretation, the action of the authority is a puzzling and unusual one.

"And if you're right on the law, the council has failed to properly consider the law, and has proceeded on an irrational footing."

He added such conduct would also constitute a "failure to perform a statutory duty."

Mr Justice Eyre KC announced that both decisions taken by the council to refuse to adopt the LDP earlier this year are now quashed and that both resolutions were "outside the powers of the council and/or irrational by reason of taking account of irrelevant considerations."

He proceeded on the footing that the council will 'comply and will carry out its duty without undue delay' in taking the only decision it can now be capable of in accordance with his ruling - adopting the LDP.

Although he was reluctant to put a specific timeframe on what comes next, he has directed that the claimants have permission to apply to the court for further directions if a summons for a council meeting to consider the adoption of the LDP hasn't been issued by 4pm on December 14.

And he also gives permission for complainants to apply to the court if the summons doesn't provide for the meeting to be held within a reasonable period of time.

The Judge added: "I'm not requiring the council to meet by December 31, but in my assessment, a meeting and resolution adopting the LDP any later than mid-January 2024 at the latest would not be a proper response to this order."

An improper response to the order will result in "firmer action" by the court to ensure the council complies with its duty.

The Judge added: "The council deliberately, in the face of legal advice and recommendation, declined to carry out its legal duty."

Wrexham Council must also pay £100,000 in costs to the claimants.

Following the court proceedings a Wrexham council spokesman said: "In light of the information received today we will be arranging an Extraordinary Council meeting to deal with the matter.”