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.
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
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:
*** 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.
- 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
- 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."
(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.
[ Back to the Residents Page ]