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High Court rejects another challenge to a neighourhood plan

In doing so Foskett J agreed with the detailed reasoning of Lewis J in Gladman that a neighbourhood plan can come forwards prior to the putting into place of a local plan. This is despite the fact that a neighbourhood plan is required to be in general conformity with the strategic policies of the development plan, and in this case there will not be strategic housing policies in place before the local plan is adopted.

Foskett J also rejected a broad fairness challenge to the statutory procedure for selecting an examiner for Local Plans.

Many of the grounds of argument turned on the fact that Newick Parish Council had selected a series of sites that were within 7km of the Ashdown Forest SPA/SAC and therefore would be required to provide mitigation for potential impacts on the Forest. Foskett J rejected grounds of challenge to this approach based on the Habitats Regulations, the SEI Directive and the ability to deliver housing. He accepted the neighbourhood plan examiner was entitled to place significant weight on the assurances of the Local Planning Authority that they were working to bring forwards the necessary mitigation, and pointed out that should the mitigation fail to come forwards developers seeking to develop sites not in the neighbourhood plan would have a strengthening argument for planning permission notwithstanding their non-inclusion in the plan.

Finally, the Claimant challenged the fact that the Neighbourhood Plan's Habitats Regulation Assessment and Strategic Environmental Impact Directive screening was done in the context of the HRA and SEI for the forthcoming local plan. They asserted that once it became clear the neighbourhood plan would be made before the local plan adopted those screening opinions should no longer be relied on. On the facts of this case the judge rejected that argument.

While qualifying bodies and local planning authorities will no doubt welcome yet another rejection of a neighbourhood plan challenge, the need for robust and careful decision making in relation to neighbourhood plans remains. For developers the importance of cooperating so far as possible to get a site included within a neighbourhood plan is reiterated, although that was the approach of the Claimant in this case so cannot always guarantee success.

Clare Parry represented Lewes District Council.

[1] R (BDW Trading and Ors) v Cheshire West and Chester Borough Council and Ors [2014] EWHC 1470 (Admin) , R (Gladman Developments Limited) v Aylesbury Vale District Council and another [2014] EWHC 4323 (Admin), Larkfleet Homes Ltd, R (on the application of) v Rutland County Council & Ors [2015] EWCA Civ 597

[2] The plan succeeded at referendum and has now been made.