Judge rejects green space deallocation bid in Somerset neighbourhood plan

A High Court judge has rejected a developer's legal efforts to have two sites it owns in a Somerset village deallocated as local green spaces in a draft neighbourhood plan.

London's Royal Courts of Justice
London's Royal Courts of Justice

Lochailort Investments Ltd had purchased a number of potential development plots in Norton St Philip, in the Mendip hills about five miles from Bath.

The company argued that designation of two of the plots, known as Fortescue Fields South and West, as local green spaces had been used as a means of blocking future development.

But Mrs Justice Lang could find no flaw in an independent examiner's recommendation that the designations in the draft Norton St Philip Neighbourhood Plan be confirmed.

Mendip District Council accepted the plan, as amended by the examiner, in September last year. The judge's decision sets the scene for a local referendum on whether or not it should be finally adopted.

The plan designates ten local green spaces in and around the village. Norton St Philip Parish Council says they form part of a "vital green corridor" and are valued by locals for their beauty, tranquility, views and their contribution to an understanding of the village's historic evolution and maintaining its links to the countryside.

In her recommendations to the council, the examiner said that the sites met the National Planning Policy Framework's criteria for allocation as open green spaces.

She expressly rejected Lochailort's argument that the designations "were being improperly used to as a means of sterilising open land and preventing development, in effect extending the green belt under another name".

She found that both sites were in reasonably close proximity to the community and, taken individually, did not represent extensive tracts of land. She also agreed with the parish council that they were "demonstrably special and hold particular local significance".

The parish council submitted that there were many other potential development sites in or on the boundary of the village which did not encroach on local green spaces. The examiner was satisfied that proposed housing sites in the draft neighbourhood plan were suitable and sufficient.

In upholding the council's decision to accept the examiner's recommendations, Mrs Justice Lang rejected Lochailort's argument that she had failed to have adequate regard to national policies on the designation of local green spaces.

The judge was satisfied that in confirming the local green space designations, the examiner did not ignore development plan policies concerning sustainable development of Norton St Philip and other villages in the district.

While accepting that assumptions made in the draft neighbourhood plan concerning the housing requirements of the development plan had subsequently been found to be partially incorrect, the judge was satisfied that the examiner had understood the need to foster investment in sufficient homes, jobs and other essential services .

The court held that the examiner had rationally decided that the two sites were, in the words of the framework, demonstrably special and of particular importance. It also found that she gave adequate and intelligible reasons for her conclusions and dismissed the judicial review challenge.

R on the Application of Lochailort Investments Limited v Mendip District Council. Case Number: CO/3929/2019


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