High Court backs land supply reasoning behind Harrogate Council's homes consent

A North Yorkshire council's decision to grant planning permission for 21 new homes on a greenfield site has been backed by a judge who dismissed an objector's claim that the authority had been overly-pessimistic when assessing its housing land supply situation.

Harrogate Borough Council's offices. Pic: Paul Gillett, Geograph.org

Lawyers for local agri-business, Oxton Farm, challenged Harrogate Borough Council’s permission for the homes, on the edge of the village of Bickerton, at Leeds High Court.

The firm claimed the consent was based on an overly-pessimistic projection of housing land supply in the rural area.

But Judge Simon Klein could find no legal flaw in the council’s approach and upheld the outline permission, granted to D. Noble Limited on 25 September last year.

The council based its decision on a planning officer's view that the council had a supply of deliverable sites for housing which would last only 5.02 years.

That was only a tiny fraction above the five years supply urged on local authorities by the National Planning Policy Framework.

The figure was based on the council's July 2018 assessment that it needed to build 669 new homes annually to keep up with projected demand.

That was a dramatic increase on the council's previous estimate, in 2009, that building 390 new homes a year would be enough.

Oxton Farm, however, pointed to figures published by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) on September 20, five days before the council's decision.

Barrister, Richard Wald, said the ONS data indicated that, in 2016, Harrogate Council had a housing land supply of 7.48 years.

In failing to take that data into account, the council had ignored "the best and most up-to-date housing figures," he claimed.

Wald also pointed out that the planning officer's report had been written before the ONS data was published.

Judge Klein, however, ruled that the officer was entitled to take the view that previous planning policies, which tightly restricted developments outside existing settlements, had been rendered out of date by the increase in projected housing needs.

The ONS data was "not a material consideration" that the council had to take into account when deciding whether or not to apply a tilted balance in favour of the development.

"I am not satisfied that it was irrational for the planning committee not to take into account the ONS data when determining the application, assuming that it did so," he ruled.

The judge also ruled that there were "no special circumstances" which required the council to give full reasons for its decision.

The planning officer's report had concluded that "greenfield" development sites would be needed to meet projected housing need.

And he told councillors that any negative impacts of the development would be outweighed by the positive benefits.

Oxton Farm's judicial review challenge was dismissed and the planning permission confirmed.

Last week, a High Court judge overturned a secretary of state refusal of 203 homes in a case that commentators said has "important implications" for decision-makers considering whether the National Planning Policy Framework's (NPPF's) 'tilted balance' applies.

Also last week, housing secretary James Brokenshire refused plans for a 1,600-home development on open countryside in Braintree, despite the local authority's lack of a five-year housing land supply, after finding that the proposal would have an unacceptable impact on landscape character and a nearby listed building.

R on the Application of Oxton Farm v Harrogate Borough Council. Case Number: CO/4430/2018