In one of two recovered appeal decisions issued last week – the first since The Rt Hon Michael Gove MP was appointed Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities – permission was refused for a strategic scale, residential-led scheme in Rainham, Medway.
At 1,250 dwellings, this was the largest housing scheme considered by the Secretary of State in 2021.
Notwithstanding the "very substantial benefits" of the scheme, and taking the "significant shortfall in supply very seriously", the Minister concluded that the harms – including the "severe residual cumulative impact" on the local highway network, the loss of a "significant area of BMV land", and the "substantial adverse landscape and visual impacts" to a valued landscape – significantly and demonstrably outweighed the benefits.
In doing so, the Minister agreed with the recommendations of his inspector, Jennifer Vyse, who had presided over an inquiry which lasted five weeks and heard from 12 expert witnesses, with matters in dispute including: landscape, heritage, agricultural land, transport modelling and planning.
Key points from the inspector's report and decision letter include:
- Landscape - the harm caused to the valued (but non-statutorily designated) landscape would have been enough on its own to warrant refusal. The report stressed the relevance not only of the adverse impact on landscape character and visual amenity, but also the significant detriment that would be caused to the important functions played by the landscape, including being a green buffer.
- Agricultural Land – the loss of BMV land was a significant matter, particularly where there was a good prospect that it could be farmed in a way which realised a reasonable profit. This might appear to be unremarkable finding, but it was in the teeth of expert evidence called by the Appellant – roundly rejected by the inspector and Secretary of State – that 50 hectares of BMV land, 96% of which was Grade I or II quality, that is currently in active commercial use as an orchard, was incapable of being viably farmed.
- Highways – both the report and decision letter gave backing to the Council's transport simulation model (Aimsum) over the Appellant's traditional isolated junction modelling (LinSig and Arcady), concluding that its more holistic approach was to be preferred. In addition, both also rejected the Appellant's argument that because the traffic impacts were confined to peak hours and were only experienced over parts of the highway network within Medway, they could not be considered "severe" for the purposes of the NPPF.
The Minister also agreed with the recommendation of his inspector to make a partial costs award in favour of the Council.
Robert Williams appeared as counsel on behalf of Medway Council at the Inquiry. A copy of the decision is available here.