Council fails to defend settlement hierarchy

A Somerset council failed to convince an inspector that it had sufficient housing land supply to support its refusal of an outline scheme for 118 homes, including 30 percent affordable, on agricultural land outside the settlement boundary of an 'infill' village with few services.

The council sought to defend the settlement hierarchy of its core strategy, even though the relevant policies had been remitted by the courts for further examination following legal challenge over the scale of new housing. As the key policies had been remitted, the inspector held the development plan was silent on the question of how new housing should be distributed.

Finding the council’s expectations of delivery rates on strategic housing sites and allocations to be overoptimistic, relying as they did on a rate over twice that of the highest level in the preceding five years, the inspector concluded a robust five-year supply of housing could not be demonstrated. In so finding, the inspector acknowledged the proactive steps taken by the council to improve delivery and the formidable task faced in meeting housing needs in the district.

In arguing against the sustainability of the village as a location for new development, the council focused on the very limited services and facilities available within the village. The inspector, however, considered that in the context of an absence of a five-year supply of housing it was reasonable to take account of provision within neighbouring settlements and also identified opportunities for sustainable travel from the village, concluding the appeal site demonstrated a reasonable degree of sustainability when public transport access was taken into account. Attaching limited weight to environmental concerns, noting loss of greenfield land would be inevitable to meet housing need, the inspector concluded there were no adverse impacts to outweigh the housing benefit.

Inspector: David Richards; Inquiry

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