The appeal site comprised an existing modern two-storey office block, parking and service areas bordered on three sides by dense mature woodland. The site was outside the settlement boundary in open countryside and within an extensive strategic gap.The inspector considered, however, that the site was so well screened that the existing building was barely visible and, given the proposed housing was to be within the confines of the existing site area, he held the scheme would have no material impact on the character or appearance of the gap. In addition, as the site was already developed, he held there would be no material impact on the function of the gap either in terms of the physical and visual separation of settlements.
The inspector noted the existing employment use was not protected by local plan employment policies and as there were no other issues raised that were not mitigated for in a section 106 agreement or through conditions to the satisfaction of both council, appellant and interested parties, the only conflict with the development plan lay in the fact the site was outside the settlement boundary. In this regard the inspector afforded reduced weight to the relevant adopted policies because of inconsistent wording with the NPPF relating to the protection of the countryside for its own sake. In absence of any harms, the inspector concluded the benefits of the market and affordable housing outweighed the limited conflict with the plan.
Inspector: George Baird; Inquiry