‘Valued’ gap landscape protected from housing despite absence of 5 year supply

01 Jan 2018

Planning and Environment


APP/Q3115/W/16/3153639 – APPEAL DECISION 21ST MARCH 2017

In a decision issued on the 21st March 2017, an Inspector has dismissed an appeal for a major housing proposal despite it having been recommended by officers for approval in the absence of a 5 year housing supply.

The appeal by Grainger PLC was made under section 78 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 against a refusal in May 2016 by South Oxfordshire District Council (‘the Council’) to grant outline planning permission for the construction of around 170 residential dwellings on land falling between Didcot and East Hagbourne.

The main issue at the inquiry was the effect of the proposal on the character and appearance of the area, including the setting of the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). The land was countryside but otherwise undesignated. It lay within the setting of the North Wessex Downs AONB. The parties disagreed as to whether the proposed site should be treated as a ‘valued landscape’ within the meaning of paragraph 109 of the NPPF, and in particular whether it had value as a green gap between settlements. It was agreed there was no 5 year supply of housing so that the weighted presumption in paragraph 14 of the NPPG applied.

The Inspector held that the gap afforded by the appeal site was particularly important in providing a clear sense of separation between settlements and that, in light of the tests in Stroud District Council v SSCLG v Gladman Developments Limited [2015] EWHC 488 (Admin), the land should be considered as part of a ‘valued landscape’. In coming to that conclusion she agreed with the Council that the appeal site possessed notable perceptual, scenic and representative qualities, which elevated it above mere countryside. She held that the value of the site could not be assessed in isolation of its setting, and some of this value arose as a consequence of the site’s location. This wider application was, she considered, specifically referenced as an approach in paragraph 5.30 of GLVIA3.

She held that the proposed development would harm important perceptual and visual attributes of the appeal site, and have a significant adverse effect on the character and appearance of the valued landscape. Some harm would also be caused to the setting of the AONB. Considering the latest caselaw on weight to ‘out of date’ policies for the supply of housing, the Inspector held that the Council had taken a proactive approach to development in Didcot, involving Garden Town status and the establishment of a separate body to drive forward the development of the town. The ‘out of date’ development plan policies also sought to protect landscape character and setting, and in this regard were consistent with the core planning principles in the Framework to take account of the different roles and character of different areas and recognise the intrinsic character and beauty of the countryside. Overall she considered that substantial weight should still be attached to the policies.

Despite the considerable benefits of the proposal, substantial environmental harm arising from increased coalescence and to the character and setting of Didcot and East Hagbourne led the Inspector to conclude that the adverse effects of the proposal would conflict with policy and significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits found. The scheme would therefore fail to represent sustainable development and fell to be dismissed.

Tom Cosgrove QC appeared for the Council. James Maurici QC appeared for the appellant and Hashi Mohamed appeared for the Third Party.

The inquiry in process. Image source: mindthegap.org.