Staffordshire council backs down over Javid's 750-home unallocated site approval

A Staffordshire council has said that it will not appeal against a High Court ruling which upheld a secretary of state approval for 750 homes on unallocated land to the north west of Lichfield, but warned that the decision 'undermines confidence in the planning system'.

Lichfield: 750 homes approved on unallocated site
Lichfield: 750 homes approved on unallocated site

In 2014, developer IM Properties submitted a planning application for 750 homes, a primary school, care village and associated neighbourhood facilities on land off Watery Lane, at Curborough in Lichfield.

The application was refused by Lichfield District Council (LDC) on grounds including that the site was not allocated for development in the approved and up to date local plan and was an unsustainable location.

The council was also able to demonstrate a five year housing land supply.

In September 2014 the secretary of state recovered the appeal for his determination and a planning inspector subsequently recommended that the plans be refused.

But in February 2017 the secretary of state, Sajid Javid, issued a decision letter allowing the appeal and granting planning permission for the development.

Javid agreed that the proposal was in conflict with the local plan and also that there was a five-year housing land supply. He also recognised the development would harm environmental assets.

However, despite this he concluded that the social and economic benefits of providing affordable and market housing outweighed any such concerns and hence the proposal would constitute sustainable development.

Lichfield District Council was given leave to challenge the secretary of state’s decision in the High Court in April 2017.

The council raised the challenge on four grounds including that the secretary of state had failed to explain why how he reached the decision contrary to the inspector’s recommendation and that he had failed to have due regard to the absence of a need for the development of this scale and in this location.

The High Court in Birmingham heard the case in July, but the full judgement was only published last month.

A statement issued this week by the council said that the view of the court was that the secretary of state "had given consideration to all relevant policies and material considerations, and having weighed up arguments for and against the proposal had reached a decision that was appropriate and reflected the same".

The statement said that the council believes the decision "undermines confidence in the planning system for local residents, communities and elected members".

In particular, it said, "this decision challenges the acknowledged principles that having an up-to-date local plan and a five-year land supply will offer a level of protection against speculative applications, which are not supported locally and not required to meet identified needs".

Ian Pritchard, cabinet member for economic growth, environment and development, said: "While we accept the High Court’s view that the secretary of state’s decision was not unlawful in disagreeing with the planning inspector, the fact remains that this is a bad decision for Lichfield district and for the planning system in England.

"By producing up to date local plans and planning to meet needs within an area, national planning policy makes it clear that local authorities, such as Lichfield District Council, will be supported in refusing applications that are not in accordance with a plan. This is a well-established and understood principle that provides certainty and confidence in decision taking.

"Unfortunately, in this case the secretary of state’s desire to see more houses developed in England has completely overridden any other considerations, including the fact that we are planning to meet our needs and carrying out this responsibility."

The statement said that, following consideration of the written judgement and advice from its legal advisors, it had decided not to appeal the decision of the court.

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