A single mother who took her battle against a huge property development to the House of Lords has won a landmark case that will force the government to create a new law that will always be linked to her name.
Diane Barker spent seven years fighting her local council in a bid to block construction of a cinema complex outside her south London flat. Lawyers say the Law Lords' decision in her favour will give more power to ordinary residents who want to oppose major projects, enabling them to force developers to measure the impact of major projects on the local environment.
'I am choked,' Barker told The Observer. 'I am just a single parent who did not want the park where her daughter played to be destroyed.'
In 1999 Barker discovered that developers were planning to build a 20-screen multiplex in Crystal Palace park, providing restaurants, bars and the largest rooftop car park in Europe, without taking into account how it would affect local people. Barker feared the car park would worsen her asthma and destroy the safety of the place where Alexandra, 10, liked to play. 'We thought they were going to build a monstrosity outside my bedroom with a vehicle ramp outside my door and cars and lorries on our park 24/7,' she said. 'I have taken my daughter to that park since she was seven weeks old.'
When she asked that the developers carry out an environmental impact assessment to measure the effect on aspects such as lighting, traffic, ambience, pollution and the loss of land, they refused. Bromley, the local authority, said this could not be demanded after outline planning permission had been granted.
But following the latest ruling, which came after judges sought advice from the European Court of Justice, the law will have to change. Developers that do not measure the impact early on can still be forced to do so later.
Susan Ring, Barker's solicitor, said: 'Residents faced with large projects can now insist that significant environmental effects be considered at every stage of the planning process. We consider that the result of this judgment is that the European environment will now be better protected, and irresponsible developers and local planning authorities will no longer be able to dodge their EIA responsibilities.'
Bromley council said that it had followed government advice and should not have to pick up the legal bill.