Habitats concerns thwart homes on allocated land

Uncertainty over arrangements to secure a relocation site for protected reptiles has prompted an inspector to refuse permission for 120 homes on land allocated for housing outside a Kent town.

There was no issue over the principle of developing the site for 120 houses, but the council’s planning committee had deferred a decision on the application to allow further assessment of its highway implications. After some time elapsed with no assessment being completed, an appeal was lodged. The council subsequently resolved to grant permission subject to the appellant entering into planning obligations covering affordable housing and mitigation of the development’s effects on local infrastructure and protected habitats and species.

The inspector found the scheme’s effect on the operation of the local highway network satisfactory and judged that significant effects on coastal SPA, SAC, SSSI and Ramsar designated habitats could be acceptably mitigated. However, slow worms and common lizards - both protected species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 - were present in good numbers on the site. The appellant and the council had reached agreement on translocating the reptiles but disagreed on whether this could be secured through a planning condition, as preferred by the appellant.

Given that an off-site receptor site, potentially in different ownership, had not yet been identified, the inspector decided that a negatively worded condition would be unenforceable. In his view, an effective condition would need to be worded so as to secure the receptor site in perpetuity and require a post-permission legal agreement, an approach strongly discouraged by national PPG. He concluded that without provision for mitigation of the scheme’s effects on statutorily protected reptiles, the benefits of new homes in a location that accorded with the development plan were outweighed by this potential environmental harm.

The inspector awarded partial award costs to the appellants, after finding the council’s handling of the highways issue unreasonable. The proposed access was fully in accord with the development plan and the council had produced no technical evidence to justify deferring its decision on this point, he held. Also on the costs issue, he expressed reservations that the appeal process had been used to put pressure on the council, suggesting that the applicant could have resolved matters in a different way.

Inspector: Grahame Gould; Written representations

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