Inspector 'failed to answer developer's point' that planning policy was out of date in blocking 100-home scheme, High Court rules

Plans to build up to 100 new homes in a Lancashire village will have to be redetermined by the secretary of state after the High Court ruled that an inspector failed to provide adequate reasons in rejecting a developer's argument that a local planning policy used to justify blocking the scheme was out of date.

Chain House Lane, Whitestake - image: geograph / David Dixon (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Chain House Lane, Whitestake - image: geograph / David Dixon (CC BY-SA 2.0)

South Ribble Borough Council refused planning permission in June 2019 for Wainhomes (North-West)'s 100-home scheme in the village of Whitestake, south of Preston.

A major factor in the council's decision was a local planning policy, policy G3, which safeguarded the site of the proposed development and four other areas of land against future development. This was to ensure that green belt boundaries would not need to be altered at the end of the local development plan period in order to meet longer term development needs.

The company's appeal against the refusal was dismissed in December 2019 by a planning inspector who found that the council had a five-year supply of deliverable housing land and that the tilted balance should not be applied in favour of the development.

Challenging the inspector's decision, Wainhomes argued that the inspector simply failed to grapple with one of its central arguments: that policy G3 was out of date and that there was no need to safeguard the site in order to ensure future preservation of green belt boundaries.

The secretary of state for housing, communities and local government conceded that the inspector "did not expressly consider" Wainhomes' arguments on that issue and agreed that her decision should be quashed. South Ribble, however, refused to throw in the towel and defended the inspector's decision.

Ruling on the case, Mr Justice Dove noted that South Ribble has long cooperated with adjacent authorities, Preston City Council and Chorley Council, to produce a joint housing strategy for Central Lancashire.

Policy 4 of the Core Strategy for Central Lancashire, which was adopted in 2012, stated that 22,158 dwellings needed to be built in the area between 2010 and 2016 and that 31.5 per cent of that total should be met in South Ribble. That meant that that 417 new homes needed to be built in South Ribble annually.

Following a strategic housing market assessment, the three councils entered into a joint memorandum of understanding in 2017 that the core strategy figures should continue to be used until a replacement local plan was adopted.

Wainhomes argued that, if the standard method of calculating housing need were applied in line with the National Planning Policy Framework, only 206 new homes would need to be built in South Ribble annually, thus dramatically reducing any future threat to green belt boundaries.

Using the standard method, the company argued that a radical reassessment of how the housing burden should be distributed between the three councils was required and that South Ribble's contribution should be only 20.6 per cent.

In her decision, the inspector accepted that policy 4 was out of date due to the significant change in the distribution of housing need across Central Lancashire.

She concluded, however, that policy G3 was not out of date, that the council had a five-year housing land supply and that the tilted balance was not engaged.

Overturning her decision, the judge said there was "conspicuous merit" in Wainhomes' argument that the inspector failed to grapple with its detailed arguments.

There was a "stark difference" in housing distribution figures depending on whether housing need was calculated in accordance with policy 4 or the standard method.

He added: "The inspector simply failed to provide an answer to the point raised in relation to the adoption of the standard method which, in turn, underpinned the quantity and distribution of safeguarded land reflected in policy G3.

"I am therefore satisfied that the inspector's reasons were inadequate in that they failed to grapple with and explain adequately her answer to the point raised in relation to the consequences for the distribution of housing set out in the core strategy for each of the Central Lancashire authorities, upon which policy G3 depended, arising from her adoption of the housing requirement derived from the standard method for the purpose of making her decision.

"The concession made by the secretary of state was appropriate and Wainhomes must succeed."

The inspector's decision was quashed and Wainhomes' appeal was sent back to the secretary of state for redetermination.

Wainhomes (North-West) Limited v Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government & Anr. Case Number: CO/234/2020

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