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Interpretation of housing strategy and land supply policy in national and development plan policy upheld

02.01.2019

Inspector Ken Barton has dismissed a s.78 appeal by CALA Management Limited ('the Appellant') concerning a highly controversial proposal for residential development on a 1.74 hectare greenfield site adjacent to the built-up area of Chinnor in South Oxfordshire.

The case centred on the meaning of several policies relating to housing in the core strategy and a recently made Neighbourhood Plan.

The appeal decision is significant as it addresses important questions of the proper interpretation of planning policy and the appropriate approach to housing land supply for decision-making purposes under NPPF2 and recently issued planning guidance.

Tom Cosgrove QC and Ben Du Feu acted for South Oxfordshire District Council ('the Council').

Primacy of the development plan

It was argued by the Appellant that the development plan was silent as to an important aspect of the housing strategy for Chinnor. This was despite there being a recently made Neighbourhood Plan (2017) in which the decision had been made not to make any allocations for housing and relevant development plan policy concerning residential development in larger villages.

The Appellant accepted that their proposal did not fall within any of the categories of housing development permitted by core strategy development plan policy CSR1 in larger villages. However, it argued that as there were no allocations in Chinnor, this opened the door to unallocated sites. The Council disagreed.

The Inspector upheld the approach contended for by the Council finding that the decision not to allocate sites in the Neighbourhood Plan was a conscious one which the local community were entitled to take and that there was no requirement to allocate such sites unless they wished to.

The Inspector noted at paragraph 31 that:

"The decision not to allocate further housing sites in Chinnor is not leaving a silence or a vacuum in policy. NPPF2 paragraph 12 states that if a proposal conflicts with an up to date development plan, including any neighbourhood plan, planning permission should not usually be granted."

He rejected the argument that despite the categories of permissible development in CSR1 development outside of those categories would not be contrary to the policy. Accepting the submissions made on behalf of the Council he concluded that the Appellant's interpretation of the policy would render it "meaningless."

The Inspector also noted that local planning authorities are required to meet objectively assessed needs, rather than to plan for unrestrained growth and that such unrestrained growth would not be consistent with the principles of sustainable development set out in the NPPF2 nor would it accord with the vision and objectives of the core strategy.

Thus, at paragraph 39 the Inspector concluded:

"In this case the development plan, taken as a whole, provides a clear strategy for housing in Chinnor. The issue of whether to allocate in Chinnor has been addressed by the CNP and the proposed development is contrary to the development plan strategy. It is accepted that the CALA scheme does not fall within any category of acceptable development in CSR1. It conflicts with the policy and the housing strategy for rural communities. This is a fundamental conflict with the development plan and its housing strategy."

Housing Land Supply

In Oxfordshire, a Written Ministerial Statement issued on 12 September 2018 introduced a temporary change meaning that for decision taking purposes Oxfordshire authorities only need to demonstrate a three year supply of housing sites.

One of the purposes of this temporary change was to support the delivery of 100,000 homes across Oxfordshire by 2031. The WMS recognises that in the short term this would result in fewer permissions being granted but is intended to support the plan-led approach to the delivery of more homes in the longer term.

This decision is significant because of the approach it takes to the issue of calculating "local housing need" under the NPPF2. It adopts the position argued for by the Council that identifying local housing need for the purposes of decision-taking and setting a housing need figure for the purposes of plan making are different exercises.

The Inspector also agreed with the submissions of the Council that it would be inconsistent with the wording of the NPPF2 to include unmet need from neighbouring authorities within a calculation of local housing need for decision-making purposes. That is something for the local plan process to address.

There was no dispute that if a figure was used to calculate local housing need which did not include unmet need from neighbouring authorities, the Council could demonstrate well in excess of a three-year housing land supply. This was the case even if an alternative to the standard method were used to calculating local housing need. Thus, the housing land supply position in South Oxfordshire was not such to engage the tilted balance in this case.

Other harms

In addition to the fundamental conflict with the housing strategy, the Inspector found that there would be limited landscape harm as a result of the proposal and less than substantial harm to the heritage significance of nearby listed buildings and a conservation area.

Co-joined appeal

The Inspector allowed a co-joined appeal for residential development on a nearby site within Chinnor, finding that development of that site amounted to infill and was therefore in accordance with the development plan. In that case, the Inspector again rejected similar arguments made by the Appellant (Persimmon Homes) as to the legal construction and interpretation of policy and land supply issues but as a matter of planning judgment considered the proposal to be infill.

The CALA appeal decision can be found here and the Persimmon appeal decision can be found here.

Tom Cosgrove QC and Ben Du Feu are members of the Cornerstone Planning Team and act for both developers and local authorities in a wide range of planning matters.