In 2011 planning permission had been granted for a mixed-use development for up to 530 dwellings. A planning obligation was agreed which required space within the site to be developed as a junior sports pitch. The council subsequently granted permission for further housing to the north of up to 270 dwellings, none of which contained any requirement to provide on-site recreation due to the planned delivery of the sports pitch.
The inspector noted, however, that the obligation did not require the sports pitch to be made available for public use, nor did it state how long it had to be reserved for such a use. Nor did it state that the land had to be handed to the council with a transfer mechanism. It was also accepted that had the 270 dwellings not come forward, there was no quantitative need for the junior sports pitch.
The council asserted that the obligation continued to serve a useful planning purpose, but it was evident, the inspector opined, that in 2011 it was not necessary to make the original development of 530 houses acceptable. The appellants also doubted whether a sports pitch could be fitted on the site. Although the council asserted that the site could be transferred voluntarily to it, this had not resulted in any transfer of ownership. Nor had it considered using compulsory purchase powers, and therefore the inspector held he could not be sure this option would be successful.
Many local residents used the area for informal games, for social events and for casual recreation. But this usage could be stopped by the landowners, he decided, such that overall this did not justify dismissing the appeal. The obligation was deficient in not enabling the delivery of the sports pitch and while it would assist in meeting the needs of residents on later phases, this benefit did not justify its retention. At the time the obligation was signed, there was no requirement for the pitch to be provided to meet the needs of residents in the first phase and consequently it no longer served a useful planning purpose.
Inspector: J Sargent; Hearing