Countryside protection policies overruled on inconsistency

A lack of consistency with national countryside protection policy has led to two housing proposals being allowed outside defined settlement boundaries in Berkshire.

The inspector accepted that the use of settlement boundaries supported the council’s aim of directing housing to the most sustainable locations and was endorsed by the NPPF. However, she found that the area’s housing requirement had changed since the settlement boundaries were defined in 2013, with the period of provision now extended to 2026. The requirement was based on revoked regional planning guidance and was lower than indicated by the government’s standard methodology for assessing housing need, she remarked.

The relevant development plan policies supported only certain types of development outside settlement boundaries, meaning that impact on countryside character and appearance was limited to specific categories. While recognising that the suite of policies upon which the council relied did not impose a blanket ban, she found that they did not address provision of open market housing in the countryside but focused on protection for its own sake, thus being inconsistent with the NPPF.

Irrespective of whether the council could demonstrate a five-year supply of housing land, she reasoned, its reliance on out-of-date settlement boundaries, together with an inconsistent approach to protection of the countryside, meant that four of the policies central to determination of the appeal were out of date. This triggered the tilted balance in paragraph 11(d) of the NPPF, she held.

While local residents valued the landscape associated with both sites, the inspector found that neither fell within the definition of valued landscapes under paragraph 170(a) of the NPPF. In her view, the landscape possessed no attributes that lifted it out of the ordinary. Access points would lead to loss of some hedgerow but the schemes’ overall impact would be well contained within the two sites, she concluded.

Turning to the schemes’ impact on the setting of a grade II* listed Georgian detached house, the inspector agreed that there was limited intervisibility but found that this was not determinative. Over time, she observed, the house’s grounds had been formalised and enclosed by gardens of a distinctly different character from the open parkland beyond. She found the legibility of the former parkland poor.

While Historic England had raised concerns about impact on the listed house, the inspector decided that its immediate environs would not be materially harmed, so less than substantial harm would result. The schemes’ considerable benefits, including delivery of affordable housing, economic development and jobs, were sufficient to justify allowing both appeals, she held.

Inspector: Zoe Raygen; Inquiry

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