A significant judgement by the Court of Appeal in relation to two cases, one in Suffolk and one in Cheshire East, has implications for those promoting planning applications for housing, writes Sebastian Tibenham of Pegasus Group.
The purpose of the case was to discuss the interpretation of paragraph 49 of the National Planning Policy Framework, which states:
“Housing applications should be considered in the context of the presumption in favour of sustainable development. Relevant policies for the supply of housing should not be considered up-to-date if the local planning authority cannot demonstrate a five-year supply of deliverable housing sites.”
As the Court noted, various interpretations of what are “relevant policies for the supply of housing” exist. Narrow definitions only relate to housing policies such as housing allocations. Wider definitions include a range of policies that restrict development for other preservation reasons. The Court of Appeal has now confirmed the concept extends to wider policies including Green Belt, Open Countryside policies, National Parks, AONBs etc., which all influence housing delivery in one form or another.
Post-NPPF, we have seen many decisions where the benefits of housing development have trumped open countryside policies. However, we have seen very few developers and land promotors willing to take on the Green Belt. This is understandable given the importance still afforded to the Green Belt in recent ministerial statement, the National Planning Practice Guidance, NPPF and previous Secretary of State and Court decisions.
However, it is undeniable that the Green Belt is the one policy that most influences the delivery of housing development. Indeed, it amasses around our capital and key regional cities, which are the economic powerhouses of our country. Many rightly argue this has led to a ‘leapfrogging’ of housing development, where settlements and areas located beyond the Green Belt have taken the brunt of the NPPF’s presumption in favour of sustainable development and demands to ‘boost significantly’ housing supply. This is not to say that housing in those locations is not needed but considering where the bulk of our demand lies, it is no wonder we are still failing to hit the necessary housing targets for the country as a whole.
So, does this decision open the door for housing applications in the Green Belt development? Not entirely. What it does confirm, however, is that when determining a housing application in an area where there isn’t a five-year housing supply, there is a need to balance the benefits of a proposal against the impacts even if the site is currently protected. This does not mean the site’s current designation/protection should be disregarded. Indeed, the weight to be attached to the policies is still down to the decision maker and their accordance with the NPPF and, in most instances, Green Belt policies in Local Plans are generally consistent with the NPPF. However, it would suggest the weight to be applied to its protection is lessened and such policies should certainly not be used as a sole reason to dismiss a proposal before a balancing exercise has been carried out.
In light of this decision, an obvious example of where one might successfully argue planning permission should be granted on a Green Belt site is where the site was to be removed from the Green Belt for development in a Local Plan, but that Local Plan was successfully challenged on an entirely separate matter, resulting in the need to recommence a new Local Plan. Other authorities that might be vulnerable to early applications are where there is a commitment, as set out in an adopted Core Strategy, to undertake a Green Belt review as part of a subsequent Site Allocations document, but the Site Allocations process has been substantially delayed for whatever reason.
Should you have any queries about the judgement, please contact Seb Tibenham, director of Pegasus Group, on 0161 393 3399.