The High Court has dismissed a parish council’s claim that Roman Catholic nuns fraudulently conspired to profit from a residential development on the site of a former convent school.
In what appears to be the final chapter of a nine-year saga, costs were also awarded to Sisters of the Holy Cross Trustees in Chalfont St Peter, Buckinghamshire.
The dispute stemmed from a 2010 decision by Chiltern District Council to grant the trustees planning consent allowing residential development of the former site of the Holy Cross Convent School. The Parish Council of Chalfont St Peter opposed planning permission for the development in favour of a rival plan, which involved relocating a Church of England school to the site.
The original decision to grant permission was challenged through a series of applications and appeals to the High Court which were ultimately unsuccessful.
In the latest challenge, the parish council alleged that certain sisters fraudulently conspired to gain the benefit of a planning permission by misrepresenting the historic use of the school playing fields. The council contended that planning consent meant the order was able to sell the site to developers for more than £31m.
In a 39-page judgment published this week, Mr Justice Swift dismissed the claim in its entirely, upholding none of the parish council’s arguments. Swift J also found that the council suffered no loss.
A spokesperson on behalf of the sisters commented: ‘The parish council’s claim has been completely dismissed and the Sisters of the Holy Cross are glad that the judge, rightly, found them to be innocent of any wrongdoing whatsoever. The sisters look forward to putting this upsetting and long-running saga behind them so that they can once again focus on their religious and charitable work.’
It is understood that Mr Justice Swift ordered that the Parish Council make an interim payment of over £580,000 to the trustees on account and pending a final costs award.
Chalfont St Peter Parish Council said it was ‘naturally disappointed’ by the judgment but would not be commenting further before it is discussed at a full council meeting on 30 May.
The Sisters of the Holy Cross were represented by London firm Farrer & Co. The parish council was represented by Simons Muirhead & Burton.