Suffolk parish council loses High Court challenge against approvals for 200 homes

A Suffolk parish council has failed to overturn a series of planning consents for over 200 homes, after a judge dismissed its arguments that the local planning authority had underestimated its housing land supply position.

London's Royal Courts of Justice
London's Royal Courts of Justice

East Bergholt Parish Council claimed planners at Babergh District Council had been too gloomy about the available housing land supply in the area.

The case concerned three separate planning permissions granted by Babergh Council last year for developments that included a total of 229 new homes.

Countryside Properties PLC was granted consent for 144 homes, a courtyard development and four business units on a site of Moores Lane.

Hills Residential Construction Limited was permitted to carry out a mixed-use development, including up to 75 dwellings off Heath Road.

Meanwhile, planning permission was also granted for 10 dwellings for the over 55s off Hadleigh Road.

According to judge Sir Ross Cranston’s decision note, Babergh's annual monitoring reports (AMRs) from 2013 to 2016 revealed housing land supplies well in excess of five years.

But all that changed when the council published its AMR for the year 2016-2017.

In that document, the council stated that its housing land supply stood at a maximum of 4.1 years and could be as low as 3.1 years.

And, because that fell below the five-year supply figure dictated by the National Planning Policy Framework, the council applied the presumption in favour of sustainable development, or "tilted balance", in favour of the developments.

Challenging the permissions, the parish council argued that various active planning applications, for hundreds of new homes, had wrongly been excluded from Babergh's figures.

The district council, it was claimed, had taken an overly restrictive approach to "deliverable" housing land supply when coming up with its excessively pessimistic housing trajectory.

The parish council also pointed out that, when Babergh's 2017/18 AMR was published, the housing land supply was reported as being up to 6.7 years.

That was after 331 new dwellings had been built in the district in the preceding year, representing 102 per cent of the target.

Dismissing the challenge, however, Sir Ross said Babergh was entitled to take a "robust" approach to assessing its deliverable supply of housing land.

The district council was concerned that it would otherwise be exposed to successful legal challenges and face substantial legal costs bills.

Babergh had reasonably exercised its planning judgment on the basis of an officer's advice that was not materially misleading, he ruled.

"It is not unlawful for a local planning authority to want to have confidence that it will be able to robustly defend the judgment it forms on the deliverability of housing sites.

"For that reason, the concern about challenges from developers was lawfully taken into account as a factor in decision-making", the judge concluded.

The parish council's plea that Babergh's decisions were infected by procedural unfairness was also rejected.

Late last month, the Court of Appeal upheld a Warwickshire council's enforcement notice against a landowner who removed two listed lead urns from the grounds of his home without permission, even though he no longer owns the urns and does not know where they are.

A High Court judge also recently overturned a decision by former communities secretary Sajid Javid to refuse plans for an opencast mine in Northumberland on grounds including the scheme's potential impact on climate change.

East Bergholt Parish Council v Babergh District Council. Case Number: CO/5916/2017

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