Inspector dismisses Durham Council's housing need consultation argument

A council's attempt to win an appeal decision by arguing that the government's new housing need calculation had boosted its land supply position has been dismissed by an inspector.

Durham County Council. Pic: Trevor Littlewood,
Durham County Council. Pic: Trevor Littlewood,

Housebuilder Bellway Homes appealed against Durham County Council’s June 2016 refusal of its detailed application for 75 homes. The plans were for a five-hectare site of farming land next to the southern boundary of the town of Seaham.

The council had refused on the basis of saved policies from an old local plan, one of which requires development to be located within defined settlement boundaries and seeks to protect agricultural land considered the best and most versatile (BMV).  The second saved policy prohibits development in the countryside.

Inspector David Wildsmith allowed the appeal, despite a submission by the council last month after the inquiry closed.

At the inquiry, the developer and council had agreed a statement of common ground confirming that the council cannot show a five-year housing land supply.

According to Wildsmith’s decision letter, the council had later submitted further information on its housing land supply position following the publication of the government consultation document, Planning for the right homes in the right places.

The letter says: "On the basis of the figures contained in this government consultation, the council asserts that it can demonstrate a five-year housing land supply."

But Wildsmith said he could "only give this matter very limited weight, adding: "The fact remains that the council’s revised figures relate only to a consultation process, which is still on-going, and can therefore carry little formal weight at this time.

"There is no certainty that the standard methodology suggested in the consultation document will be formally adopted, in due course – with or without amendment, and the indicative figures put forward by the council as a result of this consultation have not been tested in any meaningful way."

Consequently, Wildsmith said he could "see no reason to deviate from" the statement of common ground, which meant the relevant policies "have to be considered out-of-date, although they still carry some weight".

The inspector concluded that the proposal would produce "some adverse impacts", including "the environmental harm of the loss of the open, countryside nature of the appeal site, and the economic and environmental harm arising from the loss of about five hectares of BMV agricultural land".

However, he also found that he had to give "significant weight" to the "economic and the social dimensions of sustainable development, including the boost to the supply of both market and affordable housing which would flow from the proposed development". 

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