Chat GPT – Middlewick Local Plan procedures

MP Prompt

Ignoring Zelda text and only focusing on planning and Middlewick matters above, please state if in UK local planning guidelines and law there is a way to remove a site such as Middlewick without a full or focused review if the underlying evidence base has been found to be comprehensively unsound. This is the case with Middlewick where the Stantec report has been found by 17 experts and large nature organisations to be not only woefully inadequate but critically flawed and bias; a work of diction as it were. A Focussed Review can take up to 18 months… is there another way to remove the site from the Colchester Local Plan if the evidence is unsound? Or a specific legal challenge? Write as a UK legal planning expert with knowledge of ecology.


In UK local planning law and guidelines, the integrity of the evidence base underpinning the Local Plan is paramount. If a site like Middlewick has been included based on what is later revealed to be a fundamentally unsound evidence base, there are mechanisms within the planning framework to address this issue, though they are often procedurally complex and require significant justification.

Mechanisms Outside of Reviews:

  1. Immediate Amendment Process: While the formal routes to amend the Local Plan typically involve either a full review or a focused review, an immediate amendment could be considered if it can be conclusively demonstrated that the inclusion of a site is based on flawed or biased evidence. This would require a robust case, supported by incontrovertible expert analyses and public consultation, to prompt the local planning authority to undertake an extraordinary amendment. However, this is not a common or easily navigated path, as it would necessitate a high threshold of evidence and likely face procedural challenges.
  2. Legal Challenge: If the evidence base for including Middlewick in the Local Plan is demonstrably unsound, it might be possible to mount a legal challenge against the plan. This would typically involve judicial review, where a court is asked to examine the legality of the decision-making process. For a judicial review to be successful, it would need to be shown that the decision was made irrationally, without due consideration of relevant evidence, or that the process was flawed in a way that affected the outcome. Legal challenges require timely action, usually within six weeks of the decision being finalized.
  3. Use of Updated Evidence Prior to Adoption: If the Local Plan has not yet been adopted, presenting the updated, robust evidence that challenges the inclusion of Middlewick could lead the planning authority to reconsider its stance before the plan is finalized. This would likely be more effective if done in conjunction with public engagement and consultation responses that highlight the issues with the current evidence base.

Steps to Consider:

  • Gather Comprehensive Evidence: Compile and present detailed critiques from recognized experts and large nature organizations to formally challenge the adequacy of the evidence base used.
  • Engage with the Public Consultation Process: Use the public consultation stages to present this evidence and rally public support against the inclusion of Middlewick based on flawed evidence.
  • Legal Advice: Consult with legal professionals specializing in planning law to explore the possibility of a legal challenge based on the procedural or evidential flaws in how Middlewick was included in the Local Plan.
  • Lobbying and Political Pressure: Engage with local councillors, MPs, and relevant government departments, presenting the case that the inclusion of Middlewick based on unsound evidence risks rendering the entire Local Plan unsound, which could have broader implications for the area’s development and ecological preservation.

In summary, while a full or focused review is the standard process for making significant amendments to a Local Plan, the discovery of a fundamentally unsound evidence base, especially one that could render the plan legally indefensible, may offer grounds for an immediate amendment or legal challenge. The key to pursuing these alternatives lies in the strength of the new evidence presented and the ability to effectively engage with and navigate the planning system’s procedural requirements.



The Local Plan with Middlewick was voted through in July 2022 so I think we have missed the judicial review. What are our options i) to pressure planners and councillors for immediate pathways to use outside of review bearing in mind we already have overwhelming evidence the local plan evidence for middlewick was unsound and ii) for the campaign group to follow legal challenges if council won’t act


Given that the Local Plan incorporating Middlewick was approved in July 2022, and considering the typical timeframe for initiating a judicial review has likely passed, the focus shifts to alternative strategies for influencing change and potentially challenging the decision outside the standard review mechanisms. Here are strategies to consider:

I. Pressuring Planners and Councillors for Immediate Action

  1. Public Engagement and Mobilization:
    • Organize public meetings, workshops, and information sessions to educate the community about the issues with the Middlewick inclusion.
    • Use social media, local newspapers, and other media outlets to raise awareness and build public support.
  2. Direct Advocacy:
    • Arrange meetings with local councillors, planning officers, and other relevant officials to present your evidence directly.
    • Engage with local MPs who might elevate the issue at a national level or provide additional pressure on the local council.
  3. Strategic Alliances:
    • Partner with environmental groups, local businesses, and other stakeholders who share your concerns.
    • Seek endorsements and support from notable figures or organizations in conservation, planning, and legal fields.
  4. Submission of Formal Objections:
    • Utilize any public consultation periods related to the Local Plan or specific development proposals for Middlewick to submit detailed objections based on your evidence.
  5. Request for Plan Modification:
    • Although the formal window for review might have passed, overwhelming new evidence can still be a basis for requesting an amendment. This would likely require demonstrating that the plan’s integrity is at risk due to the unsound basis for Middlewick’s inclusion.

II. Exploring Legal Challenges

  1. Statutory Challenges:
    • While the window for a judicial review may have closed, there may be other statutory challenges possible depending on specific circumstances or procedural errors made post-approval.
  2. Human Rights and Environmental Law:
    • Explore whether the decision infringes on rights protected by human rights legislation or contravenes environmental laws and regulations.
  3. Ombudsman Complaint:
    • If there’s evidence of maladministration in how the Local Plan was developed or approved, filing a complaint with the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman might be an option.
  4. Legal Advice and Pre-Action Protocol:
    • Seek comprehensive legal advice to explore all potential legal avenues. A solicitor specializing in planning law can advise on the viability of different types of legal action.
    • Consider sending a Pre-Action Protocol letter as a formal way to challenge the council’s decision, outlining your case and the evidence supporting it. This step is typically a precursor to legal proceedings and may prompt the council to reconsider its position to avoid litigation.
  5. Crowdfunding for Legal Costs:
    • Consider crowdfunding to cover legal expenses. Public support for your campaign can translate into financial contributions to fund legal challenges.

It’s important to act strategically, leveraging both public support and legal advice to navigate the complex landscape of local planning decisions. Engaging with the community and utilizing media can amplify your concerns, while legal pathways, though challenging, may offer a recourse if direct advocacy does not lead to the desired reconsideration of Middlewick’s inclusion in the Local Plan.



Explain more what procedure or mechanism is available outside of a focussed or full review of the Local Plan to remove Middlewick if the evidence has been proved to be unsound. Issue a step by step guide for planners to follow to remove Middlewick as quickly as possible outside of a lengthy review and based on critically and fundamentally flawed and unsound evidence


In the UK planning system, the mechanisms to amend a Local Plan outside of the established cycles for full or focused reviews are limited due to the structured nature of the planning process. However, if it’s proven that the evidence base for including a site like Middlewick in the Local Plan is critically and fundamentally flawed, planners and the local planning authority (LPA) may need to act to maintain the integrity of the plan. While there’s no standard “quick fix” procedure for such amendments, the following steps outline a potential approach that planners might consider to expedite the removal of a site based on unsound evidence:

Step-by-Step Guide for Planners

Step 1: Gathering and Verifying New Evidence

  1. Collect New Evidence: Compile all new evidence that demonstrates the current evidence base is unsound.
  2. Independent Review: Have the new evidence independently reviewed by experts to confirm its validity and the extent to which it contradicts the existing plan.

Step 2: Legal and Policy Consultation

  1. Consult Legal Advisors: Review the legal implications of the flawed evidence with legal advisors to understand the potential for plan invalidation.
  2. Policy Review: Assess the situation against national and local planning policies to ensure any action taken is compliant.

Step 3: Public Engagement and Transparency

  1. Inform Public and Stakeholders: Clearly communicate the findings regarding the unsound evidence base to the public and stakeholders, outlining potential impacts on the Local Plan.
  2. Stakeholder Consultation: Engage with affected parties, including community groups, environmental organizations, and developers, to discuss findings and potential courses of action.

Step 4: Formal Decision-making Process

  1. Internal Report: Prepare a detailed report for the planning committee or council, recommending the removal of Middlewick based on the unsound evidence.
  2. Council or Committee Vote: Present the report and evidence to the council or relevant committee for a vote on whether to pursue an expedited amendment process.

Step 5: Expedited Amendment Process

  1. Legal Framework Assessment: Determine the specific legal mechanisms available for making an expedited amendment to the Local Plan, which may vary based on local regulations and the nature of the evidence.
  2. Public Consultation: Even in an expedited process, some form of public consultation is likely required to ensure transparency and public participation.
  3. Formal Amendment Proposal: Draft an amendment to the Local Plan that formally removes Middlewick, ensuring it is supported by the new evidence and complies with planning policies.

Step 6: Adoption and Implementation

  1. Formal Adoption: Follow the necessary steps for the formal adoption of the amendment, which may include a final vote by the council.
  2. Monitoring and Review: Implement a process for monitoring the impacts of the amendment on the Local Plan and the community, with a commitment to review and adjust as necessary.


  • Legal Challenges: Be prepared for potential legal challenges from stakeholders who may be affected by the amendment.
  • Documentation and Transparency: Maintain thorough documentation of the process and decisions made, ensuring transparency and accountability.
  • Policy Compliance: Ensure all steps comply with national and local planning policies and regulations.

Given the complexity of planning law and the need for due process, even expedited actions require careful consideration and adherence to legal and procedural requirements. This guide emphasizes the importance of evidence, legal compliance, public engagement, and transparency throughout the process.



Now, please state what role councillors can play in terms of removing Middlewick from the local plan, bearing in mind the planners reluctance, prevarication and obfuscation; many now accept that they were mislead for the original vote where a crucial Natural England letter was withheld from them and they were placed under significant pressure from land owner MoD and planners, given a Hobsons choice of voting for a plan with middlewick or no plan at all, with threats of 2000 rather than 1000 houses and speculative development. Consider also the below summary of the situation. Bear in mind councillors will have to vote on the draft new local plan in 8 to 12 months so they have significant say and leverage. We want to avoid a situation where councillors again have this Hobsons choice, what can they do to exert pressure or vote to force planners to act decisively.

Summary: “The penny is now finally dropping that Colchester City Council will not have a viable Local Plan until Middlewick Ranges is safely removed. The inclusion of Middlewick Ranges has been found to be fundamentally unsound by over a dozen eminent and independent experts and the most respected nature organisations in Essex/UK. It always was. The original independent advice/approval has long since been withdrawn and disowned, this can no longer be used as justification. You cannot move an entire ecosystem, and do so with experimental methods, a made up metric or any amounts of sulphur. The acid grassland and associated biodiversity at Middlewick is by definition irreplaceable, being 1/10th of the county’s acid grassland, a Habitat of Principle Importance in England. RSPB, Buglife, Essex Wildlife Trust, Essex Field Club, Colchester Natural History Society and Essex Birdwatching Society are unanimous against the controversial Stantec/MoD proposals which would set a catastrophic national precedent. They are also keeping a very close eye on things. Middlewick exceeds SSSI quality with eight communities in favourable SSSI condition; Natural England have indicated they will intervene if needed. The complete debunking and discrediting of the preposterous and dangerous proposals is also consistent with old and new planning and environmental legislation and the council’s 2019 declaration of a Climate emergency. There can be no legitimate Biodiversity Net Gain at Middlewick according to the official Defra metric. Local Wildlife Sites are not protected by building on them. If one positive thing arises from this, it may this realisation, this was always a convenient myth for the MoD to argue. The entire purpose of the Local Plan is surely to add additional protection for sites not on the Local Plan, with a strong presumption against development on these biodiverse and sensitive sites?! (alongside a whole host of other environmental and NPPF regulations used to fend off unscrupulous developers!) Middlewick Ranges presents the greatest threat to the Local Plan. Like a looming iceberg, without an urgent change of course, Middlewick will inevitably sink the entire ship. Time is short, but catastrophe can/must be avoided. It now seems inconceivable that a majority of councillors would again vote for a Local Plan which includes Middlewick, now with eyes wide open, and with full disclosure of evidence and important letters. Councillors were very badly misinformed (mislead?) at the time. A developer is poised, machines have already impacted parts of the site during soil investigation works last week – during the reptile hibernation period and against all guidelines, sealing any lizards, slow worms and snakes present in their hibernation sites (illegal under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981). A sign of the utter contempt the MoD have had for wildlife from the beginning; and a sign of what is to come. And yet, we have seen no urgency; the opposite in fact. In their belated response, planners have repeated their well worn lines and entrenched position that ‘Middlewick cannot just be taken out’, ‘it is an essential part of the plan’ and ‘the process will prevail’ – without showing any signs that the process which got us into this predicament is flexible enough to get us out. In claiming that the Middlewick evidence base was ‘independently examined and found to be sound’ the planners are conceding admitting they have a) not read the ’17 naturalist’ letter of 5th January or b) not understood it. The evidence was always not fit for purpose and signed off in error, as confirmed by some of the best known naturalists in Essex and the UK. Another year of surveys is unnecessary and would simply play into the developer’s hands (the inevitable conclusion would be this is the implicit intention!). In stating it would ‘take too much time’ to replace the 1000 houses erroneously allocated for Middlewick, they are making our case for us. The sooner Middlewick Ranges is safely removed form the Local Plan, the more time this will allow to find replacement allocations, if these are indeed required. Replacements in more suitable locations i.e. not a nature reserve and one of the most important Local Wildlife Sites in Essex. Both Karen Syrett and Sandra Scott have confirmed a ‘Focussed Review’ is possible and a valid mechanism which can be used to specifically review Middlewick and finally put this to bed; on the basis that the evidence has not only been questioned but entirely blown to pieces. Given the grave significance to wildlife in Essex, the Local Plan and the reputation of Colchester City Council, the reasons not to trigger a Focussed Review seem very weak. This may not be ‘straightforward’ and it may have ‘consequential implications’ or a ‘knock-on effect’; and it is precisely for these reasons this is required now not 6-12 months down the line. We trust that councillors will not accept the previous Hobson’s choice: a) A Local Plan which condemns Middlewick Local Wildlife Site and b) No Local Plan at all. This scenario MUST be avoided, we would hope this is something we can all agree on? We propose a third choice: c) A healthy and sustainable Local Plan which does not feature Middlewick Local Wildlife Site. And yet, without urgent intervention by councillors now, this is appears to be exactly where this trajectory of complacency and inaction are leading. You do not need a tin foil hat to suspect that this may be the overt intention by some overly wedded to this particular ‘sunk cost’. ‘Playing for time’ and ‘in the long grass’ have been muttered more than once. What kind of ‘Review’ is it if the council cannot act and remove sites based on damming new information and evidence? What would this say about the Council’s autonomy and trust the residents of Colchester should be able to place? No Local Plan can pass without the Councillor’s consent. Now would be an opportune time for councillors to get off the precarious MoD security fence and instruct the planners that you would not in any scenario vote for a Local Plan which features Middlewick Ranges Local Wildlife Site. This prospect would no doubt focus minds; on a Focussed Review. Before the inevitable escalation and buyer’s remorse if the current interested party invests in a site which should and can never be built on.”


Councillors play a crucial role in the development and approval of Local Plans and have several avenues through which they can exert influence, especially in situations where the plan’s evidence base is called into question, as with the inclusion of Middlewick Ranges. Considering the planners’ reluctance and the urgency of the situation, here are steps councillors can take to address the issue:

Immediate Actions for Councillors

  1. Request a Special Meeting: Councillors can request a special meeting of the council or the relevant planning committee to discuss the specific issue of Middlewick Ranges. This meeting would focus on the new evidence that has come to light and its implications for the Local Plan.
  2. Commission an Independent Review: Propose that the council commission an independent review of the evidence base concerning Middlewick Ranges. This review should be conducted by an external party with no previous involvement in the Local Plan to ensure impartiality.
  3. Public Engagement: Advocate for a series of public consultations focused specifically on the future of Middlewick Ranges. This would provide a platform for the community, experts, and interest groups to present their findings and concerns directly to the council.
  4. Liaise with Legal Advisors: Request comprehensive legal advice on the council’s position, focusing on the potential for a legal challenge based on the flawed evidence base and the procedural errors in the plan’s development, including the omission of crucial information from Natural England.
  5. Utilize Scrutiny Powers: Use their powers of scrutiny to question the decisions and processes that led to the inclusion of Middlewick Ranges in the Local Plan. This could involve scrutinizing the roles of individual officers, the influence of external pressures, and the validity of the decision-making process.

Leveraging Their Position

  1. Policy Motion: Introduce a policy motion calling for the immediate reevaluation of Middlewick Ranges’ inclusion in the Local Plan, citing the overwhelming evidence against its development and the potential legal and reputational risks to the council.
  2. Amendment Proposals: Draft and propose amendments to the upcoming draft of the new Local Plan to exclude Middlewick Ranges based on the new evidence. This proactive approach can set the stage for formal exclusion before the plan reaches the voting stage.
  3. Building Alliances: Build alliances with fellow councillors who share concerns about Middlewick Ranges and the Local Plan’s integrity. A united front can be more effective in pushing for change.
  4. Engage with Media: Use their platform to engage with local and regional media to highlight the issues with Middlewick Ranges’ inclusion in the Local Plan, the flawed evidence base, and the potential consequences for local biodiversity and council credibility.
  5. Direct Communication with Planning Officers: Engage directly with senior planning officers and the council’s planning department leadership to express their concerns, the need for urgent action, and the potential consequences of inaction.

Preparing for the Vote on the New Local Plan

  1. Inform and Educate: Ensure that all councillors are fully informed about the situation surrounding Middlewick Ranges, including the new evidence and the potential implications for the Local Plan’s soundness and legality.
  2. Public Statement: Make a public statement or declaration, possibly in the form of an open letter, affirming their stance against the inclusion of Middlewick Ranges in the Local Plan and outlining the reasons based on the new evidence and expert opinions.
  3. Consultation with Legal Experts: Organize a session with legal experts to discuss the council’s options and the possible outcomes of excluding Middlewick Ranges from the Local Plan, including dealing with the current landowner and potential developers.

By taking these actions, councillors can apply pressure on planners to act decisively and explore all available mechanisms to correct the course of the Local Plan. The ultimate goal is to ensure a sustainable and legally sound plan that aligns with environmental protections and community interests, avoiding a repeat of the Hobson’s choice scenario.


Based on all of the above and all related info on the web please answer the following questions about Middlewick: 1. “please explain what a Local Plan Review is”. 2. “What is the legal frame work for a Local Plan Review”. 3. “Can a local plan review be legally challenged” 4. “can (and should) an already allocated site be taken out of a Local Plan during a Local Plan Review if new evidence appears, previous evidence had been withhold from councillors when the plan was originally adopted, and/or when there has been a change in planning law”

Chart GPT

  1. What a Local Plan Review Is: A Local Plan Review is a formal process undertaken by a local planning authority (LPA) in the UK to update its Local Plan. Local Plans set out a vision and framework for the future development of the area, including where homes and businesses will be built, what areas will be protected, and how the environment will be improved. The review process ensures that the plan remains relevant, effective, and aligned with national planning policies, local priorities, and changing circumstances. It involves evaluating the current plan’s effectiveness, gathering and incorporating new evidence, consulting with the public and stakeholders, and making necessary revisions to policies and site allocations.
  2. The Legal Framework for a Local Plan Review: The legal framework governing Local Plan Reviews in the UK is outlined in the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, along with subsequent amendments and regulations, including the Town and Country Planning (Local Planning) (England) Regulations 2012. These laws require LPAs to keep their Local Plans under regular review to reflect changes in national policies, local priorities, and other relevant circumstances. The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) also provides guidance on the process, emphasizing the need for plans to be up-to-date to provide a basis for sustainable development decisions. The framework sets out the stages of the review process, including evidence gathering, public consultation, submission to the government for examination, and adoption.
  3. Can a Local Plan Review Be Legally Challenged?: Yes, a Local Plan or aspects of its review can be legally challenged. Challenges typically occur after the plan has been examined by an independent inspector but before it is formally adopted. Legal challenges are usually made through the High Court under the grounds of procedural errors, failure to comply with legal requirements, or irrationality. This is known as a judicial review. For instance, if an LPA fails to consult adequately, does not consider relevant evidence, or adopts a plan that is not in conformity with national policies, these could be grounds for a legal challenge.
  4. Removal of an Already Allocated Site During a Review: Yes, an already allocated site can be taken out of a Local Plan during its review if new evidence comes to light, if it’s found that previous crucial evidence was withheld from councillors at the time of adoption, or if there has been a significant change in planning law or policy. The review process is designed to ensure the plan reflects current evidence, policies, and community needs. If new, robust evidence suggests that a site’s allocation is no longer sustainable, suitable, or lawful, then it should be reassessed and potentially removed or reallocated based on these findings. This reassessment should be conducted transparently, involving public consultation and thorough examination of the new evidence. Such changes aim to ensure that the Local Plan remains sound, legally compliant, and capable of meeting the area’s development and conservation needs.

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