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Cornerstone Barristers work in tandem to defeat Green Belt Rural Exception Scheme

11.11.2021

A proposal for 42 affordable houses in the Buckinghamshire Green Belt has been refused.

Paragraph 149(f) NPPF allows "limited affordable housing for local community needs under policies set out in the development plan (including policies for rural exception sites".

However, the High Court has previously confirmed that to comply with this exception, the proposal must comply with every element of the relevant local plan policy see: Robb v South Cambridgeshire District Council [2017] EWHC 594 (Admin).

As is common for rural exception policies, the local policy required (amongst other things) that the scheme:

• Demonstrate an established need.
• Be provided for people with a strong and demonstrable local connection.
• Remain affordable in perpetuity.

The Inspector concluded that the Appellant had failed to demonstrate these criteria. His careful consideration of the issues is likely to be of wider use for promoters of rural exception sites.

Housing Needs Survey

To support the proposal, the Appellant had provided a Housing Needs Survey. The Survey "scaled up" the actual survey responses, by a series of weightings, to arrive at an overall need to justify the development. In the absence of the base survey data having been provided, the Inspector found that he could not be sure that the weighed results reliably reflected the actual need, see DL,25. Moreover, the Survey failed to ask relevant questions to ascertain whether the respondents had a strong and demonstrable local connection as defined in the Neighbourhood Plan, see, DL, 27.

Promoters should therefore be careful to disclose all the data which informs the conclusions of a Housing Needs Survey, especially where the results have been derived by weighting data. Those designing Housing Needs Surveys should also take care to ensure that Surveys ask appropriate questions to address the criteria of the development plan.

Perpetuity

The Inspector accepted that statutory rights to enfranchise precluded the development from being retained as affordable housing forever at DL,41. That was because the development did not fall within an area in which statutory rights had been restricted.

Given his earlier findings on the Housing Needs Survey, the Inspector did not need to decide whether the housing could be said to be affordable in "perpetuity" in planning terms even if it were not in the "strictest sense of the term".

Accordingly, there remains a question mark whether rural exception schemes in areas where the statutory enfranchisement provisions apply can truly be said to be retained "in perpetuity".

Dr Ashley Bowes appeared for the successful planning authority.

Ryan Kohli provided specialist advice to the planning authority and appeared at the inquiry to make submissions on the enfranchisement and the right to buy legislative schemes, which were accepted by the inspector.

A copy of the decision can be found here.