Data compiled by our DCS research team show that proposals involving new homes, in their many manifestations, featured in all the top ten decisions - and all but one of the top 20 - downloaded from its COMPASS Online appeals database in the first 11 months of 2014.
The case that drew most attention was an early test from North Yorkshire of the permitted development right to convert agricultural buildings into dwellings introduced in April. The council had refused prior approval to convert a barn 600 metres from a serviced settlement, claiming that the change of use would be undesirable. The inspector backed its position in September, finding that it would create an isolated rural dwelling (DCS Number 400-005-310).
The weight attributable to emerging neighbourhood plans featured in the most downloaded ministerial decision, involving plans for up to 90 houses and a care home outside a West Sussex village (DCS Number 200-002-066). In May, the secretary of state found that the location would be sustainable and met the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) presumption in favour of development, in the absence of a five-year housing land supply. Harm to an emerging neighbourhood plan would not significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits, he ruled.
Interpretation of the NPPF also featured in the third most requested case, involving 47 homes in a Gloucestershire village (DCS Number 200-002-149). In May, an inspector dismissed the council's claim that a preliminary assessment of whether a development is sustainable is required and the presumption in favour only applied if this was favourable.
Number four on the list is the secretary of state's decision in January to refuse outline permission for a 345-home urban extension at Clitheroe, Lancashire (DCS Number 200-001-598). He held that the location was sustainable and gave a chance to tackle a supply backlog, but found that the extra traffic generated would have a severe impact on highway safety.
The most downloaded case on development in the green belt in 2014 was October's approval of plans for 100 houses on brownfield land at the BRE Garston site in Hertfordshire (DCS Number 200-002-795). Given an acute land supply shortage, the secretary of state agreed that the presumption in favour of sustainable development applied and the scheme would not harm the area's character or undermine the distinction between two villages.
Another agricultural to residential case to attract widespread interest involved plans to convert a barn in open countryside in Derbyshire (DCS Number 400-005-593). In November, the inspector found that the proposal would return the building to use, domestication of the site would be modest and a footway linking the site to a town centre barely a mile away ensured that it would be a reasonably sustainable location for development.
Seventh place goes to the secretary of state's decision in October to overrule an inspector's recommendation to allow up to 350 dwellings and a local centre at the edge of Devizes in Wiltshire (DCS Number 200-002-863). He agreed that the presumption in favour applied, in the light of a land supply shortage. However, he judged that it would be inappropriate to permit the site's release now, given progress made on preparing a neighbourhood plan for the town.
Three cases tied for the last places in the top ten. In February, an inspector confirmed that a plan to convert offices in Norfolk into a house benefited from permitted development rights introduced in 2013 (DCS Number 400-003-379). He found that the council had misapplied the provisions in refusing consent on the basis that the amenity for future occupiers would be substandard.
A case from Leicestershire decided in January (DCS Number 200-001-470) offered a detailed assessment of alternative methods of calculating housing land supply. In granting permission for 34 homes, the inspector concluded that a local supply shortfall should be met sooner rather than later, noting that council failure to meet housing land release targets in recent years amounted to persistent underdelivery.
Finally, plans for a mixed employment and residential scheme on land released from the green belt in Kent were backed in March (DCS Number 200-001-601) despite council insistence that its intentions for the site did not include housing. A recently adopted development plan did not allocate the site for housing and identified a five-year land supply, but the inspector judged that granting permission would not undermine the council's overall planning strategy.