Inspector refuses 74-home Sussex appeal despite council's 2.6-year land supply

An inspector has dismissed an appeal against an East Sussex council's failure to determine a 74-home application, despite the authority having only a 2.6 year housing land supply, after concluding that the presumption in favour of sustainable development did not apply because of the site's proximity to protected habitats.

Ashdown Forest (pic Amanda Slater, Flickr)
Ashdown Forest (pic Amanda Slater, Flickr)

Applicant Prime Crest Homes Limited had appealed against Wealden District Council’s failure to decide on its application within prescribed timescales.

The firm had sought consent for the homes on land south of South Street, East Hoathly.

According to the inspector’s report, the council’s grounds for refusal related to the location of the proposed development beyond the adopted and emerging development boundaries; the effects upon the Ashdown Forest, which has European environment designations; and the effect of the proposal on biodiversity and protected species.

The inspector noted that the council had confirmed that it could only demonstrate a 2.62 year supply of housing land. "This is a significant shortfall," the inspector said.

The report said that, "given this position on housing supply, whilst the proposal is contrary to the development plan taken as a whole, the appellant considers that paragraph 11 d (ii) of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) … applies".

This states that planning permission should be granted unless any adverse impacts of doing so would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits, when assessed against the policies in the NPPF taken as a whole. This is known as the ‘tilted balance’ in consideration towards housing supply.

However, the inspector added that the council had referred to paragraph 177 of the NPPF "which qualifies that the presumption in favour of sustainable development does not apply where a project is likely to have a significant effect on a habitats site unless an appropriate assessment has concluded that it will not adversely affect the integrity of the habitats site."

The inspector concluded that there would be "significant benefits to housing supply from 74 homes, especially given the current levels of supply".

But he added that "given the uncertainty of the effects on Ashdown Forest and Lewes Downs special area of conservation (SAC), and the precautionary principle to such matters" he was "more persuaded by the council’s position that the ‘tilted balance’ does not currently apply".

The inspector refused the appeal and also rejected Prime Crest Homes’ application for an award of costs against the council.

In 2017Wealden District Council placed a moratorium on any new development within its boundaries that could generate additional traffic following concerns over the sensitivity of the Ashdown Forest SAC to nitrogen dioxide pollution from motor vehicles.

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