Judge rejects legal challenge against inspector's 460-home Wiltshire refusal

The High Court has rejected a developer's legal challenge to a planning inspector's rejection of its plans for more than 460 homes on a former airfield in Wiltshire.

London's Royal Courts of Justice

Designated as a conservation area, Old Sarum Airfield near Salisbury includes three listed hangars and technical buildings, which still play a role in the airfield's operation.

It is also central to the setting of an Iron Age hillfort, a scheduled ancient monument, and the area is peppered with historic remains, including a Roman road.

The site's military use began during the First World War and continued during World War Two. It is now operated as a commercial and civilian airfield, including for leisure and training flights.

Old Sarum Airfield Limited submitted a proposal to demolish, modify and renovate buildings on the site and to construct over 460 new homes.

A mixture of employment, commercial, leisure and office uses were also proposed, whilst preserving the aviation use of the site.

As part of the scheme, the airfield would receive a new control tower, heritage and visitor centres, a cafe/restaurant, hangars and other facilities.

Wiltshire Council's development plan recognises the possibility of developing the airfield, but only as part of a high quality, long-term, strategy to enhance the historic environment and conservation area.

A policy specific to the airfield underlines the importance of protecting the amenity of local residents and safeguarding the existing aviation use.

The council refused planning permission for the development in 2018 and the company's appeal against that decision was rejected by a planning inspector in July last year.

The inspector found that the project would have "a goodly number" of public benefits.

Amongst other things, it would secure the restoration of a listed hangar and lead to removal of some "unsympathetic" recent buildings.

The grass runway would be re-orientated, making it possible for historic aircraft such as Spitfires to land, the inspector said.

The extension and improvement of the flying hub would enhance the character of the conservation area and the line of the Roman road would be re-established, the inspector added. And aircraft overflying of local homes would be reduced and the development would "significantly boost the supply of homes" in line with the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

Despite all that, however, the inspector found that the planning balance fell against granting consent for the scheme.

It would, she said, result in the "erosion of the open character and appearance" of the airfield conservation area and the setting of the hillfort.

The public benefits of the proposals were outweighed by what she viewed as the "inordinate amount of harm to heritage assets."

She added: "The required high-quality development would not be delivered on current showing, nor would a strong sense of place be created...

"The proposal as presented in illustrative form does not convince me of the quality of the development, nor its compatibility with the sensitive historic environment..."

In dismissing the company's challenge to the inspector's decision last week, Mr Justice Robin Knowles could find no fault in her conclusions.

Arguments that she failed to take into account some additional public benefits of the scheme were rejected.

She gave intelligible reasons for her decision and the judge concluded: "It is not arguable that there was irrationality or unfairness."

Old Sarum Airfield Limited v Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government. Case Number: CO/3284/2019