Failure to mention possible school expansion in housing scheme unimportant

Mrs Justice Lang rejected a challenge to an inspector's decision in west Sussex (DCS No. 200-003-373) which granted consent for up to 79 dwellings on land which a residents' association claimed had been identified in a draft neighbourhood plan as being required to meet future primary school need in the area.

At the time the planning application was submitted the residents’ association had submitted representations objecting to the scheme on a wide range of grounds which also included reference to the potential use of the site for educational use. They did not submit the draft neighbourhood plan which was in the process of preparation. At appeal they relied on the comments submitted during the application process. Further representations were submitted after the close of the inquiry but these did not make any reference to the plan or school expansion. Nor was the draft plan sent to the inspector when it went out for public consultation.

The judge noted that the inspector made no mention in her decision about the draft plan or possible use of the appeal site by a primary school. However given the number of occasions when both were mentioned during a three day public inquiry the judge found it difficult to accept that the inspector simply overlooked these matters. Judging from how the decision letter was framed, she had a sound grasp of the issues and in the judge’s opinion reference to the plan and future educational needs were not issues central to her decision. Indeed it must have been clear by the time she wrote her report that they were hopeless points since the local education authority had made it clear that there was adequate capacity in local primary schools to meet future need and expanding the village school was not necessary. Indeed there had been recent expansion of other primary schools in the parish. Since the draft neighbourhood plan which ultimately went out to public consultation did not formally allocate the appeal site for educational use but merely expressed support for expanding onto it, the judge decided that the inspector had not made any error in approach or reasoning.

Villages Action Group v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

Date: 7 October 2015

Ref: CO/1709/2015

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