In a judgment handed down yesterday, the Planning Court has dismissed conjoined Local Plan challenges brought by POW Campaign Limited and CPRE Surrey to the adoption of Waverley Borough Council's Local Plan. The Court also dismissed a s.288 challenge by POW to the SoS's decision to grant planning permission for a new settlement at Dunsfold Aerodrome (including 1800 homes).
The decision will be of interest to those involved in the assessment of Objectively Assessed Need within the Local Plan process, and more widely to those considering the standard of reasons required in such decisions.
The Local Plan challenges focussed on the Local Plan Inspector's approach to unmet housing need within the Housing Market Area when assessing Waverley's OAN. The Examining Inspector had assessed that Waverley's OAN should include 50% of Woking's unmet need (83dpa), calculating that level of need from Woking's Core Strategy 2012 and the need assessed in the SHMA 2015. POW and CPRE had argued that this approach was legally flawed given (inter alia) that the Inspector had accepted that the starting point for assessing Waverley's OAN should be lower based on the 2014 household projections, whereas the SHMA 2015 was based on the 2012 projections, and that no similar adjustment had been made when calculating Woking's unmet need.
It was also argued that the allocation of 50% of Woking's unmet need to Waverley was arbitrary and inadequately reasoned. In the s.288 challenge, POW claimed that the Local Plan had allocated Dunsfold Aerodrome for a new settlement to meet the OAN, and that the SoS's decision to grant planning permission relied in part on that allocation.
Nathalie Lieven QC (sitting as a Deputy High Court Judge) dismissed each of the challenges. The Inspector was not carrying out the Woking Local Plan examination and did not (realistically could not) have had all the evidence necessary to determine what Woking's figure would be.
The Inspector was seeking to establish the OAN for Waverley for its Local Plan to be sound, which was a fundamentally different exercise. The duty to take into account the best and most up to date evidence had to be tested on the particular facts and the exercise was a proportionate one. Updating Woking's OAN was not a simple exercise of recalculation in line with the 2014 projections and would have had to have regard to the employment growth analysis on which it was partly based. Such an exercise was outside this Inspector's remit and would have involved very significant delays to Waverley's Local Plan.
The Inspector's approach was sensible, pragmatic and lawful. Whilst a fairly broad brush approach was taken to the 50% allocation, it was not outside of a reasonable planning judgement, given (inter alia) that Waverley is undoubtedly less constrained than both Woking and Guildford in terms of its Green Belt.
As for the reasons challenge and the standard of reasoning required, the Judge observed that the Inspector's Report was written for a Local Plan examination, not a s.78 appeal, meaning that the reasons would necessarily be less extensive than in a major s.78 inquiry, and not every participant's arguments would be dealt with in comprehensive terms. The reasoning was perfectly adequate in that context, applying South Bucks v Porter.
The s.288 challenge was parasitic on the Local Plan challenges and so would be dismissed. Even if there was an error of law in the unmet need figure, it would have made no difference to the allocation of Dunsfold Aerodrome. It was allocated before Woking's unmet need was added and also at a point when the overall housing requirement was lower than that ultimately adopted.
Wayne Beglan and Asitha Ranatunga appeared for Waverley Borough Council. Clare Parry appeared for the Secretary of State.