Potential coalescence scuppers 255 dwellings

A residential development of up to 255 dwellings in open countryside in Essex has been refused after an inspector reasoned that the effects of the pandemic had not affected the housing supply position and the harm arising from the proposed housing in filling the last remaining gap between two parts of the settlement was greater than the benefits of the scheme and resulted in conflict with adopted development plan policy.

The inspector considered the housing land supply position in the appeal in the first instance as the appellant claimed the council could not show a five-year supply. The determining factor was the deliverability of specific sites and the inspector considered those disputed in turn against the deliverability requirements of the NPPF and the advice in PPG regarding progress towards submission of an application, or progress on site assessment work, information about viability, ownership and infrastructure. He concluded, after making some adjustments, that a five-year supply had been demonstrated and on this basis no policies relevant to the appeal were out of date by virtue of the housing supply position. In coming to this view, the inspector also considered the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic but maintained that the evidence available did not justify making any allowance or adjustment to the five-year supply as this was concerned only with the number of deliverable sites, and that figure was entirely separate from the number of houses actually built and occupied, meaning forecasts of the pandemic’s effects on actual housing delivery were not directly relevant to this exercise.

In finding a five-year supply the inspector gave full weight to the adopted countryside protection and settlement boundary policies of the local plan, which resulted in an in-principle objection to the proposal, despite acknowledging that inspectors at other appeals in the area had commented the same policies went beyond what was required by the NPPF. The inspector in this appeal held that, in the current context where there was no longer a shortfall in housing supply, the policies were compliant and maintained that whilst the NPPF did not specifically state that development in the countryside should be subject to strict control, neither did it forbid such a policy. 

In terms of its landscape interest, the inspector held the appeal site was ordinary and unremarkable arable land which had a limited contribution to the wider landscape. However, he opined that the effective closing of the gap between the appeal settlement and its smaller outlier nearby resulting from the proposal would be damaging to the setting of both areas and to the rural character and identity of the smaller outlier particularly. This inspector came to this conclusion despite acknowledging that the two distinct areas were treated as part of the same village in the adopted local plan and the fact that the council’s emerging plan proposed to abandon the current detached settlement boundaries. The inspector felt the smaller rural outlier, which had already partly coalesced with the main settlement, still retained its own distinctive identity and sense of place and this factor alone was sufficient to refuse the scheme.

Inspector: John Felgate; Inquiry

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