Eco-village benefits held to outweigh local harm

Localised harm to rural character and appearance is insufficient to outweigh the benefits of a mixed-use scheme in an area of housing need in Essex, an inspector has ruled.

The development included 94 new homes, a flexible use building, open space and landscaping on high-quality farmland outside a village boundary. In assessing whether development was acceptable in this location, the inspector afforded limited weight to the district council's emerging local plan, which was at an early stage and subject to unresolved objections.

He also afforded limited weight to the 2005 adopted plan, finding that its policies for the supply of housing within settlements and protection of the countryside for its own sake were too restrictive and did not comply with the National Planning Policy Framework. He noted that the framework does not use the word "protect" in this context but instead recognises the intrinsic character and beauty of the countryside, which he felt had a different meaning and intent.

The inspector reasoned that the local plan countryside protection policy was a counterpart to its policy on settlement boundaries. He found that this was also out of date, since the authority was no longer able to provide the level of housing development required to meet the district's needs, as demonstrated by an agreed land supply of between 3.1 and 4.2 years.

As well as affording significant weight to the benefits of meeting the housing shortfall, especially in the context of the timescale for adoption of the emerging local plan, he gave significant weight to the scheme's environmental credentials. He felt that harm to the countryside would be limited by the site's contained nature and its relationship with the existing built form.

Inspector: Kenneth Stone; Inquiry


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