The weight of emerging Neighbourhood Plans: from application to appeal
In February this year, we reported on a number of major planning applications that had been refused and dismissed at appeal amidst perceived concerns that the proposed developments would conflict with emerging Neighbourhood Development Plans (NDPs). We previously considered:
- Have NDPs been given the weight the Government had envisaged?
- How effective a planning tool are they for developers and development decisions?
To understand these points, we looked at the case of Rolleston-on-Dove Neighbourhood Development Plan.
In this blog, new Graduate Planner Laura Christine Hayes has revisited the case to see if the emerging NDP has had lasting weight in the long term considering this particular development decision.
Rolleston-on-Dove Emerging Neighbourhood Development Plan vs Burton and South Derbyshire College vs Secretary of State regarding The College Playing Fields
- This case dealt with a residential development of 100 units on Greenfield land in Rolleston-on-Dove
- The emerging Rolleston-on-Dove NDP had passed examination in July 2013, and allocated the site for continued sports and recreational usage, in line with the out of date adopted 2006 Local Plan.
- NDP was awaiting the referendum date from the LPA, but the LPA had put off setting one due to the need to potentially reconsider and consult on the NDP in relation to the emerging East Staffordshire Borough Council Local Plan (LP) 2012-2031.
- The site allocation in the new LP stated the land was designated as a residential site for 100 homes in the instance that the Council did not have a five year housing land supply.
The planning application had been refused by the LPA and dismissed by appeal to Secretary of State (SOS) due to the emerging NDP, against the recommendations of an Inspector. The appeal decision stated that if the application were approved at that time, it would undermine the emerging NDP and so the application should be postponed for the time being and reconsidered at a later date.
So what happened next?
Since the appeal decision in December 2014, the College launched a High Court appeal, submitted in April 2015, refuting the decision made by the SOS. Eric Pickles commented on the High Court appeal representing the SOS, stating that he did not contest the challenge against the previous decision to reject the application.
In effect, this was the first instance of the SOS potentially backtracking on Neighbourhood Plans with respect to their weight in planning decisions. Though it appears the SOS showed enthusiasm for the emerging NDP by dismissing the appeal. The backtracking may suggest that the council failed to quantify the full impact of the areas housing land deficit. It also might be the case that, in not contesting the challenge, the SOS understood that despite the NDP being well progressed, its policies were not reflectant of the housing land deficit or the emerging site allocations and LDP due to it being based on the out of date 2006 LDP. Alternatively, it could be the case that they had no comments on the High Court appeal to allow representations to be made, piloting the first case of its kind.
On the 15th October 2015, the 2012-2031 LDP was adopted with the College Site included within the Strategic Village Allocations and in the Housing Trajectory to deliver 100 dwelling units. During this period before the adoption of the LDP, the NDP had been re-consulted on in light of the draft Local Plan undergoing examination and consultation. It had to be amended after discussions with the LPA, Parish Council and Neighbourhood Plan steering group, to refer to the strategic policies in the adopted 2012-2031 LDP. The NDP is due for re-examination this month, with a date of February 2016 set for a referendum by East Staffordshire Borough Council.
The High Court appeal is progressing and the case is being carefully re-considered. Time will tell whether the dismissal will be overturned.
But you may wonder, are there further instances since this landmark case in which the SOS has not contested High Court appeals, where emerging NDPs were a factor? The answer is yes.
Woodcock Holdings Ltd v SSCLG (2015): Land at Sayers Common
- 120 dwellings proposed by landowner
- The emerging, unexamined, but well-progressed and consulted-on Hurstpierpoint and Sayers Common Parish 2031 NDP did not allocate the site for housing.
- No recently assessed housing needs indicators provided from the Mid Sussex District Council LPA for the district. The Mid Sussex District Plan 2031 was being prepared with the Mid Sussex Local Plan May 2004 (adopted 27th May 2004) utilised to determine proposals.
- Housing supply for the relevant area however was agreed to be around two years.
- LPA refused permission due to the emerging NDP. An appeal followed which was recommended for approval by an Inspector, but ultimately refused by Eric Pickles due to conflict with the emerging NDP. The lack of an assessed housing need by the LPA was critical to the decision.
The dismissal by the SOS was not the last of it. A High Court challenge was lodged and won by the developer in May 2015. The judge stated that:
"Although it had been held that a body preparing a neighbourhood plan does not have the function of preparing strategic policies to meet assessed housing needs across a local plan area and need not be concerned with wider issues for the delivery of housing, it cannot follow that the absence of any objective assessment of housing needs at the district level could justify increasing the weight to be given to a draft neighbourhood plan."
What does this mean for developers?
The fact that both of these major applications examples went onto High Court appeals after original dismissals by the SOS to respect emerging NDPs, is demonstrative of the Government fulfilling promises in relation to those made in the Localism Act. The Sayers Common case exhibits, in the instance of a severe housing deficit, decisions where emerging NDPs have had an influence can be overturned so as to alleviate pressure on the Local Authority strategic delivery performance targets, which in turn, assists landowners and developers. It will be fascinating to see if these cases of High Court judges overturning SOS decisions will have an impact on other SOS decisions with similar contexts in the future. Similarly it will be interesting to see if they also have an effect on local level decisions, preventing applications from reaching the Inspectorate at all.
If you are looking at potential development sites or application proposals where NDPs are emerging or in effect, then get in touch with us to see how we could assist.
What are your thoughts on the weight of emerging NDPs? Be sure to leave us a comment or give us a shout on Twitter.
Pictures sourced from:
N I c o l a via flickr and Mihal Bojin via flickr