Seven key factors which differentiate successful unplanned housing appeals from unsuccessful ones

We studied appeal decisions for all schemes of 400-plus homes on unallocated greenfield sites since the start of 2016. Below, we highlight the key reasons why some appeals are allowed and others dismissed.

The Planning Inspectorate's headquarters in Bristol
The Planning Inspectorate's headquarters in Bristol

1. The absence of a five-year housing land supply does not necessarily determine which way appeals will be decided. In the most recent decision analysed in our research, the secretary of state dismissed CEG Land Promotions’ appeal against the refusal of 500 homes in Burley-in- Wharfedale in November 2019 (DCS number: 200-008-918), despite finding that council had less than two years of housing land supply. The harm to the openness and function of the green belt location outweighed the benefits of the scheme, he ruled. Similarly, in the dismissal of Acorn Braintree’s appeal for 1,500 homes at Braintree in June 2019 (DCS number: 200-008- 522), the secretary of state found no five-year land supply, but decided that harm to the landscape, and reduction of the gap between settlements were adverse impacts which outweighed the benefits of the proposal. On the other hand, the secretary of state decided in February 2019 that Hallam Land Management’s proposal for 600 homes in Doncaster (DCS number: 200-008-238) should be approved, despite a five-year housing land supply being in place. He ruled that this consideration was outweighed by the fact that the authority’s local plan policies were out-ofdate and that there would be no adverse impacts from the scheme.

Housing schemes of 400 or more homes on unallocated sites, allowed or dismissed on appeal 1.1.2016- 9.1.20

2. An absence of harm arising from the scheme can be a more critical factor than the degree of benefit created. In the Burley-in-Wharfedale appeal, the secretary of state recognised the very significant benefits of the scheme, including housing supply and new education facilities. But he still decided that this was outweighed by green belt harm. Similarly, in the Braintree appeal, the benefits of the scheme were outweighed by the negative impacts. On the other hand, the major benefits brought by Hallam Land Management’s scheme in Doncaster (DCS number: 200-008-238), which consisted of housing, a community park as well as biodiversity and transport improvements, were enough to see the scheme approved, as no adverse impacts had been identified.

3. Where the case hinges on landscape character, the degree of impact is crucial in determining the outcome. In dismissing Wates Developments’ appeal for 700 homes in Fleet, Hampshire, in November 2019 (DCS number: 200-008-911), the secretary of state ruled the effect of the scheme on landscape character would be significant and adverse. Despite the site being not designated or considered a ‘valued landscape’, he ruled the visual effects of the proposal would be prominent and would unacceptably diffuse the "clear and crisp transition between town and country". On the other hand, in another scheme proposed in Fleet, an inspector decided in October 2017 that Berkeley Strategic Land’s project could be allowed (DCS number: 200-006-920). The inspector acknowledged that the landscape was locally valued, but judged the main elements of the landscape would be enhanced by the scheme.

4. Proposals in the green belt must demonstrate no harm to openness or green belt purposes. The Burley-in-Wharfedale appeal was refused on the grounds that the harm to the openness of the green belt would outweigh the benefits. Similarly, an appeal for a 1024-home garden village in Walton-on-Thames was dismissed (DCS number: 200-007-617) after the secretary of state decided that the site was in a strategic arc of green belt which was narrow and fragmented. The proposal would cause harm to the green belt purposes of preventing towns from merging, blocking encroachment into the countryside and checking unrestricted sprawl, it was ruled.

5. If a proposal reduces the gap between settlements, the size and nature of the remaining gap is crucial to whether it is acceptable or not. In an appeal in Newton Aycliffe in May 2018, harm to a green wedge was cited as a key reason for dismissal by a planning inspector (DCS number: 200-007- 579). The appellant had proposed a green corridor of 94-155 metres in width as part of the scheme, to preserve the green wedge separating Newton Aycliffe from neighbouring Woodham. But the inspector decided this would not be of sufficient width to maintain "the semblance of a much more expansive rural landscape interjecting between settlements". But in Berkeley Strategic Land’s appeal in Fleet in October 2017 (DCS number: 200-006-920), the inspector decided that reducing the gap between two settlements by a third would still provide sufficient space to ensure that it performed a useful planning role and prevent unacceptable visual and physical coalescence.

6. Transport impacts can be key, with unresolved objections from the highway authority being hard to overcome. Inadequate infrastructure was cited as being a key flaw in an appeal for 2068 homes at Wisley Airfield in June 2018 (DCS number: 200-007- 158), after disagreements over the provision of a slip-road on the A3 to serve the development were unresolved. On the other hand, a proposal by developers David Wilson Homes and Gallagher Estates for 860 homes in Rugby (DCS number: 200-006-612) was won on appeal in July 2017 after the highway authority’s objections were overcome through the provision of a widened main road to reduce traffic queues where junctions were proposed. The inspector therefore decided that the residual cumulative impacts of the scheme were not severe.

7. If heritage harm is identified, assessing the public benefits of the proposal becomes crucial. Under the terms of the NPPF paragraph 196, where "less than substantial harm" to a heritage asset is identified, this has to be weighed against the public benefits of the proposal in arriving at a decision. So in the November 2019 Wates Developments’ appeal (DCS number: 200-008-911), the "less than substantial" harm identified to a listed farmhouse was not outweighed by the benefits, due to the balancing exercise assessing other factors. But in the Rugby appeal in July 2017 (DCS number: 200-006- 612), the impact of traffic generated by the proposal on the setting of a listed building and statue was also judged as "less than substantial", but was outweighed by the public benefits in the form of new homes, a new school and other community contributions.

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