The top ten appeal and call-in decisions of 2019

We summarise the ten most frequently downloaded decisions from the COMPASS online appeals database during 2019.

The Planning Inspectorate's head office in Bristol
The Planning Inspectorate's head office in Bristol

Residential developments or conversions featured in all of the top ten most frequently downloaded cases from the COMPASS online appeals database over the last year.

1. In a case decided at the end of 2018, inadequate local provision for specialist housing led an inspector to approve a retirement village on green belt farmland outside a Kent town.
The inspector agreed that the scheme would not accord with core strategy policy on development outside settlement boundaries, but found this conflict outweighed by a five-year housing land supply shortfall. He also found that the absence of affordable provision sought by local policy was overridden by paragraph 64 of the revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). He gave substantial weight to green belt harm but concluded that this was outweighed by the cumulative advantages of contributing to general housing supply and providing specialist extra care housing for sale to older people, a need underestimated in a strategic housing market assessment and in current and emerging development plans.

2. In February, outline plans for 600 homes and a community park were allowed in a South Yorkshire green wedge, despite the area’s healthy housing land supply position.
The council had refused the scheme because the site fell in a countryside protection area designated in its core strategy. The secretary of state found that the council’s countryside policies were too protectionist and that it had accepted that it would have to look beyond an existing designated growth area to find additional housing sites. In his view, this meant the policies could only be afforded limited weight and the tilted balance in paragraph 11 of the NPPF applied. He accepted that the council could show a five-year supply, based on the government’s new standard methodology, but found that no other adverse impacts from the proposed housing were identifiable and that the scheme’s benefits were considerable.

3. Case law on the definition of "limited infilling" was at the core of an inspector’s decision in January to overturn refusal of permission to build two houses in the Staffordshire green belt.
The appellant drew attention to Wood v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and Gravesham Borough Council [2015], in which the Court of Appeal held that, in considering the question of limited infilling, a village boundary defined in a local plan would be a relevant consideration but not necessarily determinative. Applying this judgment, the inspector found that the current proposal amounted to limited infilling and would not constitute inappropriate development in the green belt.

4. In February, an inspector rejected claims that a retirement village represented an acceptable form of development in the Surrey green belt.
The appellants questioned the logic of the green belt boundary in the vicinity and highlighted the fact that the council was examining options for releasing some green belt land. The inspector noted that the NPPF makes clear that green belt boundaries should only be reviewed in exceptional circumstances and any such release was not for him to decide. He found that the scheme would reduce the gap between settlements, the new buildings would reduce openness and harm would be caused to local character and the landscape. Improving the range of accommodation for those with care needs would rarely amount to a very special circumstance, he held.

5. In approving plans for up to 70 homes outside a Hampshire village last December, an inspector found that benefits outweighed conflict with an outdated settlement boundary policy.
The presumption in favour of sustainable development in paragraph 11 of the NPPF did not apply in this case because of the site’s proximity to protected habitats. However, the inspector decided that an adopted local plan policy restricting development in the countryside was out of step with the NPPF and gave it reduced weight. A demonstrable five-year housing land supply did not affect the weight he accorded to this finding. He found only limited harm to landscape character from the urbanising effect of the proposed development but gave significant weight to the scheme’s housing supply and local economic benefits.

6. In January, a barn conversion was allowed in West Yorkshire as permitted development after the council relied on out-of-date text from Planning Practice Guidance (PPG).
The council maintained that the appeal building could not currently be occupied as a dwelling and that the extent of works required would go beyond what could be considered reasonably necessary for a conversion. The inspector noted that PPG states that internal works are not generally development and that the installation of exterior walls may be reasonably necessary for a conversion. Finding that the proposed works were reasonably necessary to allow the building to function as a dwellinghouse, he concluded that they would be permitted development under class Q, part 3, schedule 2 of the General Permitted Development Order 2015.

7. In January, an attempt to secure permission for 124 flats and commercial space on a vacant site in east London without affordable housing provision was rejected.
The appellants argued that the development was not currently viable but would become so with the arrival of Crossrail in the area. The inspector rejected their proposal to review the scheme’s viability at two stages, voicing concerns that it was unlikely to ever generate a sufficient surplus to meet the council’s affordable housing requirements. Overall, he decided that inadequate affordable housing provision, in an area with a clear unmet need, outweighed the scheme’s benefits and it would not be a sustainable form of development, leading to conflict with the development plan.

8= In November, the secretary of state ruled that a severe housing land shortage does not justify 500 homes in the West Yorkshire green belt.
The secretary of state disagreed with the inspector that the homes could be accommodated without adversely affecting the integrity and function of the green belt. Given a housing land supply of less than two years and persistent underdelivery of housing, he accepted that the scheme’s housing supply benefits attracted very substantial weight. Despite these findings, however, he concluded that harm to the openness and function of the green belt outweighed the scheme’s social and economic benefits and provided a clear reason for resisting the development.

8= In September, the absence of a five-year housing land supply persuaded an inspector to allow 101 houses on open fields outside a a large Buckinghamshire village.
The inspector identified conflict with a recently adopted local plan, harm to rural character and an appreciable loss of top-quality farmland. Following close examination of the deliverability of housing sites in the area, he concluded that a housing land supply of 4.4 years was a material consideration in favour of a decision not in accordance with the development plan.

8= Finally, controversy erupted over an inspector’s decision in July to grant prior approval for windowless flats in a former industrial building in Watford.
The inspector found that the 15 units would be small and the lack of windows in seven of them would not create a "positive living environment". However, he pointed out that the size of individual dwellings and whether they would have windows or ventilation is not a condition of the General Permitted Development Order (GPDO) in relation to such changes of use. He concluded that the council had not demonstrated that the units would not be able to form a self-contained dwelling with day-to-day living facilities, as required by the order.

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