Robin Green successfully acted for Wycombe District Council in resisting an appeal concerning outline proposals for 131 houses on a former sports ground on the edge of a sustainable Buckinghamshire village near Princes Risborough, just inside the outer boundary of Green Belt and AONB designations. Although there was a shortfall in the housing land supply, and a significant level of affordable housing need in the district, the Secretary of State (who had recovered the appeal) concluded that:
- there would be substantial harm to the Green Belt;
- although an outline scheme, the evidence did not show that a development of 131 dwellings would be capable of providing an acceptable design solution or layout in keeping with its surroundings or in accordance with the relevant design guide;
- the scheme amounted to major development in the AONB, but the benefits outweighed the minor adverse impacts on landscape and scenic beauty and therefore exceptional circumstances within para 116 existed and the scheme was in the public interest;
- the harm to the Green Belt was not clearly outweighed, and there were no very special circumstances;
- overall, the scheme was in conflict with the development plan and material considerations had not been shown justifying a departure from it.
The effect of the recent Supreme Court decision in Hopkins Homes Ltd v SSCLG was evident. In his decision letter the Secretary of State expressly disagreed with his Inspector's conclusion (in a report that preceded Hopkins Homes) that policies in the local core strategy that sought to steer development towards High Wycombe, limiting development in the smaller rural settlements, were policies for the supply of housing. In light of the Supreme Court decision he found they were not, and gave them significant weight because they were consistent with the NPPF.
As to what constitutes 'major development' in an AONB, the Inspector rejected the argument that the focus was on the effect of the development, stating '... in housing developments it seems reasonable to me to consider the size of the development. In these terms the main parties both agree that the proposal would be defined as major. I note that in the Wealden judgement there was no dispute that 103 dwellings was major development, notwithstanding that the Inspector had found it to have a neutral effect on the AONB. In my judgement the number of dwellings in this case, taking account of the local context would be sufficient for the present proposal to be considered major development'. The Secretary of State agreed.
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