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Planning inspector refuses permission for 21 hectares of glasshouses: Economic growth does not trump environmental harm under NPPF

Planning permission has been refused with partial costs for the erection of four industrial sized glasshouses in the Manhood Pensinsula, West Sussex following an inquiry in which Mary Cook acted for the Almodington Association, a third-party objector, and Tom Cosgrove acted for Chichester District Council.

The proposed glasshouses were for the growing of lettuces (and potentially other crops) which would have covered an area of 21 hectares. The application included a landscaping scheme, wetland habitat creation, irrigation reservoirs and a highway scheme to provide access to the site.

This decision on an application for a major horticultural development in the countryside is highly significant in the context of the NPPF.

The developer relied heavily on the emphasis on growth in the NPPF. While the inspector noted the importance of business growth generally, she was not satisfied that the proposed development would bring about the sustainable economic growth that would be required to outweigh the proposed development's conflict with the development plan, its impact on the countryside and its impact on highway safety.

Development plan policy
The inspector determined that the proposed development would be contrary to the development plan and particularly to relevant Local Plan policies dealing with glasshouse development due to its harmful impact on the character and appearance of the area. The glasshouses would have required large scale tree planting to screen the glasshouses from view in an area of otherwise open countryside which would appear as an incongruous feature in the landscape and restrict long distance views.

The inspector also determined that the highway safety measures outlined below in conjunction with the increased numbers of large HGVs would detract from the overall tranquillity of the area.

Highway safety
The inspector was not satisfied that the proposed development would not adversely affect highway safety, in light of the increased numbers of large HGVs that would need to access the site down a narrow stretch of rural lane.

The developer had submitted a series of schemes of road widening works in an attempt to overcome the highway safety issues. Indeed the developer submitted a third road widening scheme the day before the inquiry was due to close once all the evidence had been heard. Having granted the Council and third parties an adjournment to analyse the amended scheme, the inspector was ultimately not satisfied that the scheme was sufficient to mitigate the highways safety impacts of the development.

A partial award of costs was made to cover the assessment of the new widening scheme submitted so late in the inquiry process.

Economic Development
The inspector recognised the importance of the horticultural sector to development to the regional and national economy in the context of the NPPF's commitment to securing economic growth in order to create jobs and prosperity.

However, she was not satisfied that the proposed development would bring about sustainable growth. In particular, the inspector was concerned by the fact that the developer was not proposing to build out all four phases of the proposed development to meet current needs but would only do so if and when the need arose. The inspector also found that the developer's evidence in relation to job creation overestimated the number of jobs that would be created as a direct result of the proposed development.

Mary Cook acted for the Almodington Association, instructed by Mike Washbourne of Washbourne Field Planning.

Tom Cosgrove acted for Chichester District Council, instructed by Nicola Golding, principal solicitor for Chichester District Council.