River campaigner wins right to challenge £500m scheme in High Court

Lady Dido Berkeley has won the first stage of her legal battle to stop Hutchison Whampoa’s £500m redevelopment of the Lots Road power station in London’s Chelsea.

The river campaigner, who in 2000 stopped Fulham Football Club from extending its riverside stadium, was given permission by the High Court on Friday to appeal against John Prescott’s decision to grant consent for the mixed-use scheme.

She argues that Prescott did not take into account the mayor of London’s Blue Ribbon Network policy, which says that the riverside should be prioritised for river uses.

The scene is now set for a judicial review type-showdown in the High Court, probably early in the New Year. If Berkeley is successful, the planning permission for Lots Road could be quashed.

‘We are just very relieved that justice has been done,’ said Berkeley, who is vice-chairman of the River Thames Society, a pressure group. ‘It is a shame, however, that we have had to go all the way to court to get protection for the river which the government should be looking after.’

Hutchison Whampoa had argued that Berkeley’s claim was time-barred. Under planning law, appeals have to be made within six weeks of the secretary of state’s decision. The Lots Road appeal was filed within this time limit, but in the name of the River Thames Society, which later withdrew from the case.

However, Mr Justice Underhill said that it was the ‘inherent jurisdiction of the court’ to allow Berkeley’s name to be substituted, adding: ‘It very far from being the case of a stranger who has failed to apply in time seeking to take opportunistic advantage of someone else’s claim.’

But in a blow to Berkeley, the judge refused to award a protective costs order. This would have limited the amount of costs that the developer and the government can recover from Berkeley should she lose the next round. Justice Underhill said the case was ‘not of a wide enough public interest’ to justify a costs cap.

Despite that setback, Berkeley said she would continue with the case. ‘We are going to carry on. If the government is not going to stand up for the river Thames, it is up to the public.’

A spokesman for Hutchison Whampoa refused to comment.