The emerging local plan had provisionally been found unsound by an examiner in respect of the predicted level of housing need and employment growth. Consequently, the council was re-examining the suitability of green belt land for development. Nevertheless, it claimed that, in combination with another site allocated for new homes on the edge of the village, the appeal proposal would be a disproportionate addition and approving it would predetermine decisions that needed to be taken in the context of the emerging plan.
The inspector found paragraph 49 of the NPPF clear in stating that, for councils to rely on prematurity arguments, a development has to be so substantial that to grant permission would undermine the plan-making process and the plan must have reached an advanced stage. Neither applied in the case before him, he judged; the scheme was not particularly large and considerable progress had still to be made in deciding which parts of the green belt should be released for housing and employment.
He also challenged the council’s claim that the scheme would lead to disruption of a "working village". The council had been unable to explain at the inquiry what was meant by this term, he remarked, also noting the appellant’s evidence that only two people lived and worked locally. He noted the council’s acceptance that, should the appeal be allowed, it would not change the status of the village in the settlement hierarchy. Neither was there any evidence to suggest that local services would be overwhelmed by the scheme, he found.
Turning to five-year housing land supply issues, the inspector did not accept the council’s claim that it had justified an alternative assessment because the exceptional circumstances allowed for in paragraph 60 of the NPPF applied. This was predicated on the emerging local plan and until the housing delivery test was in play, its current estimate of housing need was appropriate. This failed to reflect the fact that the council’s estimate had been judged unsound by the plan examiner, the inspector concluded. In any event, he added, the delivery of sites was dependent on the release of large areas of green belt, which had yet to be fully tested at the examination.
The inspector noted that the revised definition of what constitutes a deliverable site in the annex to the NPPF includes two "closed lists" and it was for the planning authority to demonstrate, in respect of the second category, that sites were deliverable. On this basis, he held that the supply of housing land fell well short of five years. He found that site could be developed without delay, provision of 22 affordable dwellings carried substantial weight and the scheme would deliver a new retail unit and employment space. Any conflict with the emerging plan did not significantly and demonstrably outweigh these benefits, he concluded.
Inspector: George Baird; Inquiry