High Court upholds permission for 55 home greenfield scheme outside settlement boundaries

Plans to construct up to 55 new homes on open pastureland between two Berkshire villages and outside their settlement boundaries have been given the green light by a High Court judge.

Objecting to the project, Wokingham Borough Council pointed out that it has in hand well in excess of a five-year supply of available housing land.

But Mrs Justice Lang could find no fault in an inspector's decision to grant planning consent for housebuilder Taylor Wimpey UK's proposals.

According to the court papers, Taylor Wimpey's plan is to build the new homes in two blocks, adjoining the villages of Three Miles Cross and Spencers Wood. Between them, a 1.56 hectare stretch of natural green space will be retained and 35 per cent of the homes are planned to be affordable.

The council failed to reach a decision on the planning application within the statutory time limit. But planning inspector, Nick Palmer, granted permission for the development in February following a public inquiry.

He recognised that the council had in place a bank of deliverable housing sites sufficient to last 6.83 years, well over the government's five-year target.

However, he observed that a significant part of the council's housing land supply was made up of sites outside existing settlement boundaries. He added: "I take the view that the development limits are out of date because they are based on an out-dated housing requirement."

Policies regarding development limits based on settlement boundaries were therefore "not fully up to date" and the inspector gave them reduced weight. Although the development would cause limited harm to the character and appearance of the area, he noted that the separate identities of the two villages would be maintained.

The quality of the environment would be protected by the retained green space, where planting would result in a "biodiversity gain", he said. And he pointed to the "economic benefits" of the project and the area's pressing need for more affordable homes.

Overall, the inspector concluded that the benefits of Taylor Wimpey's plans outweighed any disadvantages.

Challenging that decision at the High Court, the council claimed the inspector reached an irrational conclusion for inadequate reasons. It was unfair, the council argued, for the inspector to take into account that some of the sites in its housing land supply fell outside existing boundaries.

Dismissing the council's complaints, however, Mrs Justice Lang said the inspector's reasons were "intelligible and adequate."

He was entitled to give "significant", rather than "full", weight to conflicts between the proposals and local planning policies. In his "careful assessment" of the scheme's planning merits, he was "clearly aware" that the council had a 6.83-year supply of housing sites. And he was entitled to conclude that policies limiting developments outside existing settlements was "not fully up to date."

Wokingham Borough Council v Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government. Case Number: CO/1470/2019

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