Two-step approach to assessing housing needs required in plan making

Gallagher Homes Ltd have been successful in challenging an inspector's approach to assessing housing land supply which was coupled with a decision of Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council to alter green belt boundaries which had effectively prevented housing development on two sites in which the company had a financial interest.

The high court had previously ruled that the inspector’s approach had been flawed because paragraph 47 of the national planning policy framework (NPPF) required local planning authorities to adopt a two-stepped approach to boosting significantly housing land supply. This required a full and objective assessment of need and the inspector had erred in not ensuring that this had been undertaken. The court also ruled that he had failed to provide adequate reasons for concluding that exceptional circumstances existed to alter the green belt boundary.

In challenging this ruling the local authority stated that the NPPF had not introduced a radical change in methodology in housing provision and as a consequence the inspector’s recommendation that the plan was sound should stand. The housebuilder in cross-appealing the decision argued that those parts of the plan should be quashed rather than follow the high court’s decision that it should be remitted for re-examination by another inspector.

The court of appeal decided that the NPPF had introduced significant changes in the approach to housing land supply issues. The high court had therefore been right to conclude that it introduced a radical shift in ensuring that an adequate supply of housing land was maintained. Neither the local authority nor the inspector had undertaken an objective assessment of needs as a separate and prior exercise to the consideration of the implications for other policies such as the green belt. Consequently, whether development would be permitted on sites identified by the housebuilder if they were to remain outside the green belt would depend on the merits of an application including whether an adequate supply of land had been identified. The same inspector had concluded in 2005 that the two sites should not be included in the green belt and yet had made no mention of this in supporting the council’s extension of green belt protection over them.

Lord Justice Laws agreed that the proper approach would be to quash those parts of the local plan which were defective. The errors had arisen before the inspector had been appointed since the council had not undertaken the two-step approach as required by paragraph 47 of the NPPF. The legal flaws could not be corrected by appointing another inspector. Rather, it was a matter for the local authority to re-consider how the flaws could be corrected by undertaking a proper assessment and then reviewing how this had an impact on other policies in the plan.

Gallagher Homes Ltd v Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council;

Date: 17 December 2014

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