8 May 2015
A recent key High Court judgement quashing a decision by Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, could be good news for developers. The ruling could significantly reduce the weight attached to emerging neighbourhood plans in planning decisions - important because some communities have used neighbourhood plans to block development.
In the case, Mr Justice Holgate found that the Secretary of State had placed too much emphasis on an emerging neighbourhood plan when dismissing a recovered appeal for a 120-home scheme on the edge of Sayers Common, Sussex.
The Secretary of State’s dismissal of the appeal, in September 2014, was based on the proposal’s conflict with, and its prematurity to, the emerging neighbourhood plan. This decision was made despite the Planning Inspector’s recommendation that the appeal be allowed.
Interestingly, the local planning authority, Mid Sussex District Council, had not refused the original application by developer Woodcock Holdings Ltd on prematurity grounds. In fact, it had dropped its objections at appeal – the council has a demonstrable lack of five-year housing supply. Instead it was the parish council that led the opposition at the planning inquiry, relying on its draft neighbourhood plan.
In his ruling, Mr Justice Holgate concluded that the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) paragraphs 14 – the presumption in favour of sustainable development- and paragraph 49 – a demonstrable five year housing supply - did apply to the housing supply policies in a draft development plan, including a draft neighbourhood plan. Therefore these should have been applied when assessing the weight to be attached to those policies in the Neighbourhood Plan and to any conflict with such policies.
At around the same time as this ruling, Eric Pickles decided not to contest a High Court challenge against his decision to reject plans for 100 homes in Staffordshire on the basis that the proposals would 'undermine' an emerging neighbourhood plan. This was swiftly followed by his declaration that he would not fight yet another separate High Court challenge against his decision to reject plans for 350 homes in Wiltshire in a neighbourhood plan area
Previously, the preparation of a neighbourhood plan had been viewed by some communities as a mechanism for resisting development, particularly in the absence of a Local Plan. For instance, in Cheshire East Council, at least 18 communities have applied for Neighbourhood Area status in the past 12 months alone.
Earlier in the year, the High Court upheld the Secretary of State’s decision to refuse permission for 111 houses in Broughton Astley where there was an adopted neighbourhood plan. The judge ruled that ‘significant weight’ should be given to local plan policies, including an adopted neighbourhood plan.
But the recent ruling and challenges reinstate the importance of the presumption of sustainable development in cases where there is not a five-year housing land supply and no adopted neighbourhood plan. These decisions will act as an extra incentive for local bodies such as parish councils to push ahead to full adoption of their neighbourhood plans.
The Government’s political commitment to neighbourhood plans has been seen as undermining the policies of the NPPF. This latest High Court ruling will clarify the relationship between draft neighbourhood plans policies and the presumption in favour of sustainable development.
The future role of neighbourhood plans is unlikely to change significantly - the Conservatives were the main advocate of empowering neighbourhoods to plan their future as part of the wider localism agenda. It is clear, though, that there may be a gold rush to get neighbourhood plans over the line as soon as possible.
0161 874 4650