Durham new town 430-home extension rejected due to saved green wedge policy

Outline plans for 430 homes on the fringes of a former County Durham new town have been turned down on landscape grounds, despite an inspector's finding that the site does not constitute a valued landscape.

Extension refused: Newton Aycliffe, Durham. Pic: Mick Garratt, Geograph.org
Extension refused: Newton Aycliffe, Durham. Pic: Mick Garratt, Geograph.org

Willmott Partnership Homes lodged an application for 21 hectares of farmland west of the A167 between Newton Aycliffe and the village of Woodham in August 2016. Durham County Council’s decision to refuse permission in February 2017 went to inquiry last month.

The parties agreed that the county council could only show a five-year housing land supply on the basis of the requirement for 1,368 dwellings per annum set out in indicative figures released by the government last year in its consultation on a new standard methodology for objectively assessed housing need.

In his decision letter, issued last week, inspector Hayden Baugh-Jones found that housing targets in the county might well need to be "uplifted" beyond this figure to align with the county’s economic activity aspirations and avoid an imbalance between economic and housing growth. It would be "premature" to apply the standard methodology figure, he concluded.

He decided that, on present requirements, the county council could only show a land supply of 4.75 years, so the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) tilted balance in favour of sustainable development applied.

In refusing permission, the inspector gave very substantial weight to the scheme’s conflict with a saved policy from the 1996 Sedgefield Borough Local Plan resisting development in a number of specified green wedges in towns and villages.

Willmott’s proposals provided for a green corridor varying in width from 94 metres to 155 metres, which the company contended would maintain separation between settlements and perform the role of a green wedge.

While accepting that this proposal would physically separate the proposed housing from neighbouring development, the inspector decided that it would not be wide enough. In his view, it would be perceived as a broad linear green space running through a built-up area rather than a rural landscape between settlements.

He considered that the local plan’s green wedge policies remained "broadly consistent" with NPPF policies on countryside and the natural environment.

The inspector recognised that the area did not possess the attributes to qualify for additional protection as a valued landscape for the purposes of paragraph 109 of the NPPF.

However, he decided that covering attractive, verdant countryside with housing would cause "serious harm" to the area’s character and appearance, contrary to paragraphs 7 and 17 of the NPPF.

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