High Court backs underproviding core strategy on basis of planned review

A High Court judge has rejected a developer's claims that a Hertfordshire council had failed to properly meet the area's future housing needs in its key planning document.

London's Royal Courts of Justice
London's Royal Courts of Justice

Mr Justice Lindblom dismissed a claim by Grand Union Investments, which own 35 hectares of land south of Berkhamsted, in which it hoped to win an order forcing the Dacorum Council to reconsider its core strategy.

Grand Union claimed that the council’s plans for more 11,320 new homes in the area before 2031 would not meet the area’s needs.

It argued that the figure for the core strategy period, which runs from 2006 to 2031, falls almost 3,000 short of what is required in the borough.

It suggested a total of 14,080 new homes would be needed. And it claimed that the requirement of 35 per cent of the council's figure to be "affordable housing" would not be enough.

However, the judge backed the council's defence that a review, planned for 2017 and already underway, may yet alter its plans, if projected figures demonstrate a need.

A planning inspector who considered the proposed core strategy had also felt the council's figure was not high enough, but took the view that a modification to the plan named "Main Modification 28", under which the council stated its intention to review the figures by 2018, was enough to render it sound.

Agreeing, the judge said it was clear that the inspector was "well aware of the need for the council to have a solid and durable plan in place as soon as it reasonably could, and of the need for that plan to be kept up-to-date",

He said: "The council was planning in the core strategy for a period of 25 years, ending in 2031, which is a much longer period than the 15 years that paragraph 157 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) says is preferable. In the course of that 25-year period there will be several cycles of plan­making.

"Making his judgment on soundness in that context, the inspector could not foresee any imminent shortfall in the provision of housing in the borough."

He said that the outcome of the early review was uncertain, and the inspector knew that, but continued: "Crucially, however, he was satisfied that the review, whatever its outcome, would be able to anticipate any shortfall in housing supply arising towards the end of the plan period, so that the council's development plan strategy could be adjusted in good time to cope with it.

"In these circumstances I think the inspector could reasonably conclude that the approach embraced by the council in Main Modification 28 was compatible with the aim of government policy in the NPPF to secure an increase in the supply of housing, and that in this respect the core strategy as modified would be sound."

He added: "The review would enable the council to identify the full objectively assessed needs for market and affordable housing in its area, and would assess how far those needs could be met - with the help of neighbouring authorities if this is necessary. It would also include a full review of the green belt boundary. At the point of its adoption, therefore, the core strategy was a satisfactory strategy for the whole of its period, not just for part of that period."

Grand Union Investments' counsel, Christopher Katkowski QC, had argued at the March hearing that the adoption of the core strategy last September was "irrational", as the review might not change anything.

He argued: "A proposal to carry out a review of an unsound plan cannot make the plan sound".

Grand Union Investments Limited v Dacorum Borough Council. Case Number: CO/16628/2013

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