New-build offices allowed in open countryside

An inspector has approved new office buildings, employing 36 people, at a farm in the Essex open countryside, with the presumption in favour of sustainable development outweighing the conflict with the adopted spatial strategy which directed employment development to defined settlements.

In reviewing the council’s 2007 adopted spatial strategy, the inspector considered the policies on the location of employment businesses in rural areas were unduly restrictive compared with the approach set out in paragraphs 83 and 84 of the NPPF and were not therefore consistent with it. The policies only allowed for expansion of existing businesses in rural areas and even then, only in exceptional circumstances. The inspector concluded the most important policies for determining the scheme were out of date and this was fundamental to her overall planning balance in which she afforded limited weight to the locational policies of the plan.  

The inspector did not regard the appeal site as isolated, despite being next to only one dwelling, as it was in close proximity to a main A road and set only slightly away from the edge of the nearest hamlets. She accepted the appellant’s evidence that there were no other suitable sites for the type of business proposed and agreed the site was well served by bus and cycling opportunities. She held the agricultural building style of the proposal was appropriate in terms of the character and appearance of the area and existing and proposed landscaping would help settle it in. The inspector could find no unacceptable harm to the amenities of the adjoining occupier subject to hours of operation and lighting conditions. The lack of harms found and the benefits of the proposal to the local economy plus the net gain to biodiversity from the ecological enhancements proposed, ultimately tilted the balance in favour of the proposal.

Inspector: J Ayres; Hearing

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