2nd July 1997

Today, a High Court judge refused to grant leave to apply for Judicial Review concerning the building of a McDonald's Drive-Thru in East Grinstead (UK). Richard Tassell, an East Grinstead resident (with a barrister and solicitor acting for him on a pro bono basis and with other people assisting), was seeking permission from the courts to apply to overturn the decision of the Mid-Sussex District Council granting McDonald's planning permission to build a Drive-Thru.

Other documents:

  • Richard Tassell's 1st affirmation
  • Richard Tassell's 2nd affirmation
  • Richard Tassell's 3rd affirmation
  • Affadavit of Ruth Gurny
  • 1st Affadavit of Keith Buchan
  • 2nd Affadavit of Keith Buchan
  • McDonald's was given planning permission on 7th November 1997 to convert the While Lion pub on London Road into a Drive Thru. London Road forms part of a gyratory system and, unsurprisingly, is already heavily congested, especially during peak periods.

    The Council did not appear at the hearing, but McDonald's were represented by Frere Cholmeley solicitors and Mark Lowe QC.

    Mr Tassell's main argument for overturning the Council's decision was based on the anticipated increase in traffic (and traffic-related problems) caused by the Drive-Thru. Counsel for Mr Tassell argued that the Council had unquestioningly accepted the traffic figures produced by traffic consultants employed by McDonald's, and that those figures were fundamentally flawed. Indeed, the East Grinstead Town Council had taken that view and had recommended to the decision-making body (the Mid-Sussex District Council) to refuse planning permission because of the unacceptable increase in traffic which would be caused by the development.* However, the Mid-Sussex District Council took these figures (showing only a 1% increase in traffic) at face value and granted the planning permission. The County Surveyor concluded "there is no evidence to substantiate that there would be a material increase in traffic movements".

    Counsel for Mr Tassell argued that the figures were flawed because some traffic movements were not taken into account and that the real figure for traffic generation was in the region of 5 to 10% or more. This was backed up by the sworn evidence of a traffic expert.** Furthermore, the government strongly recommends that a full Traffic Impact Assessment be carried out if the anticipated increase in traffic is at such a level. Such a Traffic Impact Assessment, needless to say, was not carried out.

    Mr Justice Dyson listened to arguments of Counsel for McDonald's attempting to rebut these points. Dyson then ruled in the company's favour, based largely on an assumption that the County Surveyor, because of his professional standing, _must_ have taken all the appropriate matters into consideration. The judge based his ruling on tenuous and insubstantial evidence*** that the County Surveyor had been considering all traffic movements when deciding that the traffic survey produced by McDonald's consultants was accurate.

    Despite the fact that Richard Tassell lost this case in the courts, there is a lot that has been gained by it:

    (1) McLibel Support Campaigners are now much more aware of the law and practice concerning such planning decisions by local authorities, and are more able to advise and assist other residents fighting in their areas against a proposed Drive-Thru or other store. In other words, the knowledge and experience gained by the people working on this case substantially adds to the knowledge and expertise of the McLibel Support Campaign in the area of opposing McDonald's locally. The McLibel Support Campaign has for some time been building up information and experience on opposing McDonald's proposed plans for new stores or to extend the licencing hours of existing stores. Information and help is available at Tel 0171 713 1269 and at

    (2) Useful contacts have been made, including a traffic expert and sympathetic lawyers.

    BUT there is one very important lesson to be learnt from this case, namely that once a decision granting planning permission has been made, it is very difficult to get it overturned. Thus, it's very important that residents raise all relevant objections in the run-up to the decision, and put as much pressure on the Council to consider the full implications and effect of the Drive-Thru (or high street store) and to take into account fully the public feeling against the proposed development.

    SO WE ADVISE THAT residents' groups or individuals wishing to oppose planning permission for a McDonald's store should contact the McLibel Support Campaign (Tel 0171 713 1269) as soon as possible so that we can advise you on the best course of action and assist you in whatever way we can.

    Finally, we must not forget the residents of East Grinstead who are sadly going to have a McDonald's Drive-Thru on their doorsteps soon.

    * The determination of the East Grinstead Town Council was set out in the following terms: "Recommend refusal. Committee believes that the increase in traffic which would be generated onto the A22 consequential upon this development would lead to an unacceptable increase in vehicular movements. It is considered that the pedestrian access is unacceptable, and would result in public safety hazards, and that vehicular movements in and out of the site would lead to major hazards. The committee was not convinced of the veracity of the traffic survey."

    ** The conclusions of the traffic expert were as follows:
    • The reduction of the development's traffic flow to 1% of existing flow is only achieved by introducing the inappropriate concept of additionality, and by ignoring the exiting traffic movements [ie. movement of cars leaving the Drive Thru to go back onto the road]. Correcting for this would produce a figure of just over 6%. This would make a full traffic impact assessment "normal".
    • Currently on the road which would provide entry and exit for traffic to and from the development there are significant peak flows. It is located in the built up environs of East Grinstead and not in an isolated free flowing position, and there is a series of junctions close by. All this argues that the traffic situation is complex and requires full analysis if a rational decision is to be reached.
    • The choice of hour (by McDonald's traffic consultants) favours the case for the development by producing the lowest likely percentage for traffic to and from the Drive-Thru McDonald's when compared to total traffic flow. In reality, during the most congested periods, the traffic generated exceeds 5%, and in the least congested periods traffic generated probably exceeds 10%, of total traffic flow.
    • It is also worth commenting that this development is in the middle of a busy one way system on a primary route A road in the middle of a built up area. Even without the Traffic Impact Assessment Guidelines, the manoeuvring of traffic in and out of such a development, including the likelihood of some traffic needing to change lanes, would merit a thorough traffic impact assessment including a full road safety analysis."

    *** This 'evidence' consists of comments of the County Surveyor in his report to Council concerning car parking (and similar matters) in relation to the Drive-Thru, and comments made by McDonald's traffic consultants in a memorandum to another Council officer.


    (1) McDonald's were granted planning permission by the Mid-Sussex District Council on 7th November 1996 to build a Drive-Thru on the site of the White Lion pub, London Road, East Grinstead.

    (2) The District Council voted 5 to 4 in favour of the plan, despite the fact that the Town Council had rejected the plans and recommended refusal two days beforehand. Campaigners against the plan believe that the councillors in the District Council (which meets at Haywards Heath not at East Grinstead) were swayed by the threat that McDonald's would take this to a costly appeal if they were refused. Also, they took the traffic report of the county surveyor at face value, whereas the Town Council were not convinced of the veracity of the traffic survey. The Deputy Mayor had two days earlier given an impassioned plea to reject the scheme, saying that even a 1% increase in traffic would be intolerable. East Grinstead's roads are already choked, and the Deputy Mayor had dismissed the county surveyor's report as 'cavalier'.

    (3) This was a victory for the East Grinstead Coalition Against the McDonald's Plan. They mobilised support for their campaign from across all spectrums of the community. The issues were raised and discussed in detail - in council meetings, in a public forum, in the columns and letter pages of the local newspapers, in schools, and on the streets. The Coalition gave it their best shot but the pro-development planning laws, and a bunch of non-East-Grinstead-residents made things turn out different from the desired outcome of people living there. The prevailing mood of the town was ignored. But the public debate was won by the opponents of the plan - they exposed McDonald's for what they really are.

    (4) On 8th February 1997, an application for Judicial Review was lodged in the High Court, requesting an order from the court overturning the decision of the Mid-Sussex District Council granting McDonald's planning permission for a Drive Thru in East Grinstead. A local resident and active campaigner in the East Grinstead Coalition Against the McDonald's Plan claimed that the council based their decision on flawed data relating to the anticipated effect of the Drive-Thru on traffic flows.

    (5) Meanwhile (as at 2nd July 1997) the sale of the White Lion pub to McDonald's has not been completed and the pub remains open for business as usual with no date fixed for closure. Furthermore, an entry on the Land Register currently cautions against any dealings in the property. So there is no immediate prospect of the proposed development being commenced.

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