A HIGH Court judge this morning struck a stunning blow against the city council over its £165m plans to transform Winchester city centre.

Mrs Justice Lang upheld the challenge by city councillor Kim Gottlieb against his own council, throwing into question the whole scheme.

The judge sitting in London today ruled that the city council acted unlawfully when it accepted the changes proposed by Henderson.

She agreed with Cllr Gottlieb that the redevelopment of the area between The Broadway and Friarsgate should have gone out to European Union-wide competitive tender when it was altered by dropping the proposed bus station and 100 affordable flats.

Her judgment said: “In my judgment, the council has committed a serious breach of the procurement regime, which is both substantive and procedural in nature. This is the second occasion upon which it has committed such a breach in the lifetime of one contract. It would be an exceptional course to allow its unlawful decision to stand.”

Cllr Kim Gottlieb said today: “Having its actions judged as unlawful brings great shame on Winchester City Council.  The positions of those who led and guided this process are now clearly untenable. The council’s Leader (Rob Humby) and chief executive (Simon Eden), together with the deputy leader (Victoria Weston) and the Corporate Director (Steve Tilbury), should immediately resign.”

The Winchester Deserves Better campaign was formed by Cllr Gottlieb and his Winchester-born wife, Nicky, in June 2014 and it has rapidly gathered momentum among Winchester residents.  Their concern is that the scale, nature and poor design of the proposal, promoted by the Council, would ruin the historic character of the city and devastate the High Street.

In a statement, city council leader Rob Humby said: “The council has today been advised that the Judge in the recent Judicial Review of procurement in respect of the Silver Hill scheme has found in favour of the challenger. This is clearly disappointing, and runs against the external legal advice the Council had received on this matter, and indeed the initial legal judgement which rejected a Judicial Review.

“The case for the regeneration of the Silver Hill area has always been strong, and has cross-council support. With that in mind, I think the Council was quite right to proceed with the project, a decision which was backed up by clear legal advice. However, it is never easy to predict the outcome of a Judicial Review, and we must acknowledge the Judge’s ruling.”

Officers are considering with legal advisors next steps, including the possibility of an appeal. Meanwhile, it is important to note the Courts have not overturned the decision of the Planning Committee last December, so there is still a viable scheme which has democratic support and could be developed.

“Nor have they contradicted Deloitte’s conclusion that the approved scheme offered the Council ‘best consideration’. What is now at question is our ability to work with Henderson within the framework of the Development Agreement.”