Historic ruling has implications for all public consultations

EVERY council in the country speaks about consultation as if it was the holy grail of community interaction, yet far too often the reality fails to match the hype. Haringey Council isn t alone in having had its knuckles rapped for ineffective processes:

EVERY council in the country speaks about consultation as if it was the holy grail of community interaction, yet far too often the reality fails to match the hype.

Haringey Council isn't alone in having had its knuckles rapped for ineffective processes: under the former Labour regime, neighbouring Camden's ability to run meaningless consultations and ignoring the recommendations of its own scrutiny panels was legendary.

For frustrated residents, it's always encouraging when the failure to consult in a meaningful and effective manner comes back to bite councils and other organisations who appear to regard consultation as a necessary evil - a trifling hurdle to be overcome in pursuit of a pre-determined agenda.

Seldom has this played out more spectacularly than in the example of Alexandra Palace, where the seasoned and indefatigable campaigner, Jacob O'Callaghan, went all the way to the High Court and sensationally won an important ruling on the sale of the historic landmark.


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Mr O'Callaghan is a historian who is often see by those in authority as little more than a niggling thorn in the flesh, a serial complainer who is adverse to progress.

But in this classic David versus Goliath battle, he delivered a deadly slingshot by arguing that the Charity Commission should not have approved the sale without consulting properly.

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To the surprise of almost everyone who attended the hearing, the judge agreed. He said it was fatally flawed because ''all consultees were not made aware of the details of the lease and could not respond meaningfully to the consultation''.

In doing so he set out firm guidelines to local authorities: consultation is indeed a sham in legal terms unless people are provided with enough information to respond in a meaningful manner. This could be interpreted as meaning that councils must make full disclosure of all relevant information to interested parties during a consultation process. On the basis of the Alexandra Palace ruling, an interested party could be a single resident.

Now council lawyers all over the land will be paying very close attention to this landmark ruling which underpins Mr O'Callaghan's triumphant challenge to what was clearly a flawed and inadequate consultation process.

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