Inspector backed on countryside policy interpretation

An inspector gave adequate reasons for approving 55 dwellings in countryside on the edge of a Berkshire settlement on appeal, the High Court has concluded.

At the appeal inquiry, the council accepted that its housing land supply, estimated at 6.8 years, was partly dependent upon developing greenfield sites. However, it argued that the outline proposal would adversely affect the area’s character, erode the separation between and identity of two settlements and affect the setting of a listed building. It asserted that it had given clear justification in instances where it had granted permission for schemes outside defined settlement limits and that these decisions had not eroded the importance of restraining development in the countryside.

In allowing the appeal (DCS Number 200-008-290), the inspector accepted that development limits in the area were out of date because they were based on an outdated housing requirement. He found the key countryside and spatial policies upon which the council relied generally consistent with the NPPF, thus attracting significant albeit not full weight. Having regard to this finding and the adequacy of housing land supply, he decided that the tilted balance in paragraph 11(d) of the NPPF was not engaged. However, after applying an untilted balance, he decided that the scheme’s benefits were sufficient to justify allowing the appeal.

The council challenged this decision on the grounds that inadequate reasons had been provided. Mrs Justice Lang decided that the inspector’s reasons for affording the relevant policies significant rather than full weight were intelligible and adequate. In her view, he had carefully assessed how far the scheme accorded with the underlying policy aims. Citing Bloor Homes East Midlands Ltd v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government [2014], she held that the weight to be applied to material considerations was a matter for planning judgement and not for the courts.

The judge also dismissed claims that the inspector had failed to address housing land supply issues, including the component represented by development on greenfield sites. Recognising that the inspector had been placed in a difficult position, she noted that it was not his role in a section 78 appeal to assess whether development limits in the area remained appropriate in light of the council’s current housing needs. That was a matter for a local plan review, she held.

In her opinion, the council’s explanation to the inspector about sites outside development limits that had been granted permission had been relatively limited. It had been a matter for the council to determine how much information to provide on this matter rather than being incumbent upon the inspector to request further explanation, she held.

Wokingham Borough Council v Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government and Taylor Wimpey UK Ltd

Date: 21 November 2019

Ref: [2019] EWHC 3158 (Admin)

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