Neighbourhood plan clash assessment found sound

An appeal inspector properly understood the conflict with a neighbourhood plan raised by a proposed housing development in West Sussex, the High Court has ruled.

The neighbourhood plan formed part of the development plan and allocated sites for new housing. Since the site was not allocated and lay outside a settlement boundary, the local planning authority refused permission, citing paragraph 198 of the 2012 NPPF on the basis that it conflicted with policies in adopted local and neighbourhood plans.

The inspector agreed that the scheme conflicted with local plan policies because the site fell outside the settlement boundary and did not accord with the aims of the neighbourhood plan because it was not allocated for housing. Nonetheless, because the council was unable to demonstrate a five-year supply of housing land, he considered relevant policies controlling the supply of housing land out of date. He recognised that the neighbourhood plan had been carefully prepared and the settlement boundary had been explicitly drawn to exclude the appeal site, whose development for housing had been explicitly rejected during the plan’s preparation.

Allowing the appeal, the inspector recognised that his decision could be seen to undermine confidence in the planning process. However, he concluded that the neighbourhood plan was silent in respect of assessing housing sites outside the settlement boundary. So, while the scheme was at odds with the plan’s overall aims, he decided that it did not conflict with relevant policies relating to housing. On balance, he concluded, it should be permitted because the adverse impacts did not significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits.

In challenging the decision, the council asserted that the inspector had acted irrationally by drawing a distinction between the aims of the neighbourhood plan and its policies. Judge Andrew Grubb disagreed with the council’s claim. The inspector had carefully set out the reasons why the proposal conflicted with the local plan but not policies in the neighbourhood plan, he found. The inspector had properly considered the requirements of paragraph 198 and the distinction drawn between "aims" and "policies" was entirely rational.

Since the neighbourhood plan did not contain policies which presumed against development outside the settlement boundary, the judge held that the inspector had correctly concluded that it was silent on this point. While the plan set out an "aim" to restrict housing to specific areas, he remarked, it did not explicitly preclude housing adjacent to the settlement. The inspector had carefully considered where the planning balance lay after ruling that harm to the development plan strategy would be limited, he concluded.

Chichester District Council v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and Beechcroft Ltd

Date: 12 September 2018

Ref: [2018] EWHC 2386 (Admin)

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