Editor's pick: Recently agreed strategy given substantial weight

A Staffordshire council's newly adopted development plan has been given substantial weight by an inspector who saw no need to permit a further 320 homes on greenfield land on the edge of a large town.

The council accepted that a site allocation and development plan document had yet to be adopted, but relied on the strategic approach set out in a borough-wide plan adopted in June. The plan proposed a series of urban extensions which, coupled with development on brownfield land, would meet the town's housing needs. The plan stated greenfield sites should only be released if insufficient brownfield land was available to meet development needs.

In the inspector's view, this approach underpinned the spatial strategy and laid down a ‘free-standing’ principle even where settlement boundaries had yet to be defined. It did not imply a sequential approach to site selection but rather set out a clear preference for the use of previously developed land, he decided.

He acknowledged that the plan also relied on building homes on greenfield sites, with up to 5,900 dwellings proposed on three strategic sites. This was part of a planned vision for the town and followed a plan-led approach that had undergone independent examination, he noted. While accepting that the housing requirement was not a ceiling that could never be breached, he held that it would run counter to the plan if ad hoc greenfield releases were also permitted.

In the inspector's opinion, the plan sought to make available sufficient land for housing and further greenfield land was not necessary at present. He noted that the local plan inspector had accepted that the council could not demonstrate a five-year supply of housing land but recognised that the planned urban extensions would rectify this position. A settling-in period was needed to enable the new sites to come on stream, he concluded.

Since the council had a sound and adopted plan, he judged it appropriate to use annual monitoring to determine whether a five-year supply was available, rather than constant reviews on a day-to-day basis. Given that housing land supply was intrinsically dynamic, he considered that systemic and methodical assessment was more appropriate to avoid capricious decision-making. In his view, the appellant’s claim that the supply of housing land should be boosted was too simplistic when the development plan was up-to-date and use of the appeal site was not necessary to meet the council’s strategic spatial strategy.

Inspector: Keith Manning; Inquiry

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