Government protects nascent plans

Communities secretary Eric Pickles has for the third time in less than six weeks refused planning permission for a major housing development in part on the grounds that it would undermine local plan-making.

Pickles: communities secretary said permission would undermine Cornwall's core strategy development
Pickles: communities secretary said permission would undermine Cornwall's core strategy development

Last month, Pickles dismissed plans for a proposed 1,300-home development in Cornwall, stating that granting planning permission would "deny the local community the opportunity of determining its preferred choice of housing sites".

Developer Wainhomes had applied for permission to build an extension of up to 1,300 homes on land north of St Austell and had appealed Cornwall Council's decision to refuse planning consent.

Pickles considered whether giving the scheme the go-ahead would undermine the development of Cornwall's core strategy planning blueprint, which according to the inspector's report into the project is "at a very early stage of production".

In his decision letter, Pickles acknowledged that the benefits of the proposed scheme included the "provision of a sizeable number of new homes so as to meet a probable shortfall in the five-year supply of housing land in Cornwall".

But his letter also said that "allowing the appeal in advance of establishing the appropriate level of future housing provision across Cornwall would pre-empt decisions that should properly be taken locally". It added: "It is important to give Cornwall the opportunity to complete its core strategy process."

The decision follows two other recent appeal verdicts in which large housing schemes were refused permission on similar grounds.

In September, Pickles overturned an inspector's advice and refused planning permission for a proposed 2,000-home extension to Winchester. He stated that granting approval "would be likely to undermine the work currently being carried out in Winchester to establish a new bottom-up housing strategy". The decision is being challenged in court by CALA Homes, the scheme's developer.

In the same month, Pickles rejected a Cheshire scheme, agreeing with an inspector that it would prejudice the "fairness and effectiveness of the local development framework (LDF) process". This decision is also being challenged.

Christian Drage, a partner at law firm Berwin Leighton Paisner, queried why the minister had refused permission for the St Austell scheme on "prematurity" grounds, "when his own guidance suggests that he should not have done so".

Current guidance states that it may be justifiable to refuse permission on the grounds of prematurity where a development plan document is being prepared but has not been adopted.

Drage said: "Prematurity is not normally found when the development plan is at a very early stage, like it was in St Austell."

He added that the decision "does not sit comfortably" with the proposed National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), under which councils will be required to grant permission for "sustainable" development where a local plan is "absent, silent or indeterminate".

"The fact that there was an absence of an up-to-date local plan, and the development did have many sustainable development attributes, means that under the NPPF there might have been a presumption in favour of that scheme," Drage said.

Geoff Armstrong, a partner at planning consultancy DPP, said that, prior to the three appeal decisions, he could not remember prematurity being cited in an appeal decision for a "long, long time".

He added: "Pickles is making it clear that it is not open season. There is still a presumption in favour of sustainable development, but if you want to push a large site through on appeal, you've got to do a lot of work to get as much support as possible."

Duncan Field, a partner at law firm SJ Berwin, said: "The window of opportunity that developers thought might exist between publication of the NPPF and adoption of core strategies seems to have been closed slightly by these decisions."

See Leader, p3.

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