The appeal site was about 13.4 hectares and included a group of large warehouse and office buildings, agricultural land, and a single dwelling. The site was located to the west of the town centre and adjacent to but outside the settlement boundary. The council agreed that it could not demonstrate a five-year housing land supply in accordance with the NPPF. In addition, the inspector found that the council had not provided sufficient evidence to show that it had not had a record of persistent under-delivery.
Further, the council’s claim that the economic downturn had affected its housing delivery over recent years was not given as a reason in the NPPF for not applying a 20 per cent buffer of housing land, the inspector remarked. In terms of the past shortfall in housing supply, he noted that the council had spread the under-delivery since 2006 over the remaining 18 years of the plan period between 2012 and 2031, in accordance with the Liverpool approach.
He found very little support for this approach, given that the NPPF sought, in paragraph 47, to boost the supply of housing significantly. Whilst there was limited guidance on how to deal with under-delivery, he considered that a more effective way of boosting the supply of housing significantly would be to spread the shortfall over the next five-year period, in accordance with the Sedgefield approach.
The inspector ruled that, as the council could not demonstrate a five-year supply of deliverable housing sites, relevant policies for the supply of housing were not to be considered up-to-date, in accordance with paragraph 49 of the NPPF. In this context, the test was therefore whether any adverse impacts would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits, when assessed against the policies in the NPPF taken as a whole.
The inspector observed that the current use of much of the site was for turf growing and the commercial activities in the warehouse and other buildings gave it a less rural character than the surrounding fields. The proposed housing would replace the existing commercial buildings and dwelling that were sited near to the highest point of a plateau. The wooded part of the site on the western slope of the plateau would be retained as part of the proposal, which would include the use of this area of land for open space, additional woodland planting and sustainable drainage.
As such, the inspector found that the proposal would not result in the loss of countryside that had any more than a moderate landscape quality. He accepted that the benefits of the proposal included the provision of up to 250 new dwellings, including some 38 affordable homes, additional access for emergency vehicles and a bus service and net gains for biodiversity. The benefits would therefore be both social and economic.
The secretary of state was satisfied that the site was in a sustainable location for housing development, and that, as the adverse impacts of granting planning permission would not significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits when assessed against the NPPF taken as a whole, he did not consider that there were any material considerations of sufficient weight to justify refusing planning permission.
Inspector Martin Whitehead; Inquiry