CITY of York Council has defeated a legal challenge that could have delayed York's Community Stadium project.
At a hearing on Wednesday in London's High Courts of Justice, top planning judge Mr Justice Collins dismissed a challenge brought by rival multiplex operator Vue Entertainment Ltd.
As reported by The Press last August, Vue was contesting the authority's decision to approve plans for a larger cinema on the stadium site at Monks Cross than they had initially allowed.
In 2015, the council allowed the development of a 2,000 seat, 12 screen cinema on the site as part of the overall planning permission for the York Community Stadium project.
But it then approved the developer's request for a "minor amendment" to build a 13th cinema screen, taking the number of seats in the multiplex up to 2,400.
Vue, and other local cinema operators, had opposed the plans, saying it would be bad for other cinema operators in the city.
But at Wednesday's court hearing Vue's barrister, Robert Walton, said that the council didn't have the power to approve the 13th screen in the way that it had done.
He said that the "minor" amendment was actually too major to be made without an entirely new planning application.
If one screen could be added on as an amendment "what is the end to this? Where are the limits?" he said.
The floor space taken up by the new screen alone was enough to make it a "substantial" change to the planning permission that had already been granted, he said.
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But Timothy Straker QC, acting for the council, disagreed. He said the council had approved plans for a multi-screen cinema and, after the amendment added another screen, it was still a multi-screen cinema, so the amendment was minor.
"I readily accept that there comes a time, when you have 50,000 screens, that it is no longer a multi-screen cinema", he said. "But qualitatively speaking, there is no difference between 12 and 13 screens."
He also said the judge shouldn't "fall into the trap" of looking at the cinema development in isolation. The cinema was part of a much larger project, making the change even more minimal.
Mr Justice Collins agreed. He said he "had sympathy" for Vue Cinemas, but the law was on the council's side.
He said that there was nothing in the 2015 planning permission limiting the number of screens or seats that the cinema could have. The only limitation was on the overall size of the York Community Stadium project and the number of seats that the stadium itself could have.
"Accordingly, in my judgment, this claim must be refused".
The judge awarded costs to the council and formally refused permission to appeal.
Cllr Nigel Ayre, Lib Dem Executive Member for Culture, Leisure and Tourism, said the decision was 'good news' for the Community Stadium project and he was pleased with the judgement.
However, he warned: "The legal action from Vue will still have had a knock-on effect on timescales for the project and finances as well as creating uncertainty.
"We will work through these consequences with officers in the coming weeks, and update councillors and residents as soon as we can.”
A council spokeswoman said it welcomed the court decision. "The judge found the decision making process of the planning authority to be correct," she said.
“We remain firmly committed to the delivery of this project.
“We are reviewing the plan for the next stage with the GLL consortium and an update will be made to councillors in due course.
“This is a great step forward, but we will need to assess its impact on the timescales for the delivery of the project. This will be reviewed and the detail of the judgement considered before any further announcements are made.”
A York City Football Club spokesman said it was delighted to hear the outcome of the judicial review.
"We now look forward to the project gaining much-needed momentum and to the completion of the stadium in summer 2018," he said.
York City Knights’ new owner, Jon Flatman, who took over the professional rugby league club last month, also welcomed the news.
He said: "York City Knights are excited about representing the city and wider region at a fit-for-purpose entertainment venue.
"Today is another milestone achieved in the journey towards that objective. We look forward to seeing the stadium project build momentum as that aim is fulfilled."