Legal Casebook: Homes consent quashed over search area error

The High Court has struck down the secretary of state's decision to allow 400 homes near Leeds due to errors in the local authority's handling of a policy change on areas of search.

An existing development plan identified the site as a "protected area of search" under a policy designating land for longer-term development needs. After the outline application was submitted, the local authority adopted an interim policy that no longer identified the site as suitable for development.

Following a non-determination appeal, the inspector recommended granting permission for the homes (DCS Number 200-003-426). The secretary of state reopened the inquiry to review the five-year land supply position. In the meantime, the council withdrew the interim policy. The secretary of state then refused permission in line with the inspector's view that the proposal, among other matters, was not fully compliant with the interim policy.

The claimant asserted that the secretary of state failed to take into account the council's withdrawal of the policy. The secretary of state and the council responded that the appeal had been dismissed on other grounds, so the change of policy made no difference to the outcome.

Mr Justice Stewart noted that the secretary of state's decision letter incorrectly referred to withdrawal of the existing development plan policy, rather than the interim policy. In his opinion, this was a significant error. The judge said he could not be sure that withdrawal of the interim policy and the council's revised stance on how applications would be determined in its absence were not material considerations that might have influenced the decision.

Case: Thornhill Estates Ltd v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government; Date: 4 November 2015; Ref: (2015) EWHC 3169 (Admin)

- Decision letter cleared on top landscape balance

The High Court has upheld an inspector's decision to permit 75 homes and 50 extra care units in Worcestershire, finding that he correctly interpreted paragraphs 115 and 116 of the National Planning Policy Framework on areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONBs).

The inspector agreed that the scheme (DCS Number 200-003-800) involved major development, which paragraph 116 says should be refused unless exceptional circumstances and a public interest can be shown. However, he found that the project would be inconspicuous and of high-quality design. In his view, a need for more housing and care for the elderly could not be met in any other way and the proposal would boost the local economy.

Rejecting the challenge, Mr Justice Ouseley found that the inspector had rightly identified the tests in paragraphs 115 and 116. He could not find that the inspector had improperly assessed the project's effects on the site or the AONB. He found that the inspector had considered paragraph 116 in balancing its impact against the case for an exception. He was satisfied that the inspector had identified the scheme's benefits in deciding that exceptional circumstances applied and it was in the public interest.

Case: Franks v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government; Date: 10 November 2015; Ref: CO/3764/2015

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