Redevelopment of redundant poultry plant for residential rejected as unsustainable in a rural location

26 Mar 2021

Local Government, Planning and Environment

Haughley Park is a Grade I listed mansion in a parkland setting in the countryside to the west of Stowmarket but with “very unusual” addition of a large redundant poultry processing plant in the grounds. This had been established in the late 1950s as proto-enabling development to support the restoration of the mansion but since then had grown like topsy to become a sizeable factory complex. The poultry processing world moved on, the business was sold off separate from the house, and the factory complex became redundant in 2016. The owners of the factory complex sought a residential-led comprehensive redevelopment (120 dwellings plus modest employment and community facilities) on the basis that this would be an improvement over the status quo of utilitarian and deteriorating buildings and hard-standings or any likely form of industrial reuse, and argued that a package of sustainable transport measures could offset the remoteness of the location. Mid Suffolk District Council refused permission on sustainability and heritage grounds, notwithstanding recognition that removal of unsightly buildings would be a benefit.

After a two-week public Inquiry held (remotely) in January/February 2021, the Inspector (Mr Tom Gilbert-Wooldridge BA (Hons) MTP MRTPI IHBC) dismissed the appeal on all grounds in a decision letter dated 25 March 2021. Essentially, the Inspector considered that, notwithstanding the re-use of PDL, he was dealing with isolated homes in the countryside in a location that could not be made sustainable because of its remoteness, despite the Appellant’s various efforts to provide new footways, bus stops, divert a bus service into the site, fund a car club, and a travel plan, which the Inspector did not think would prevent the development from being “highly reliant” on use of the private car for its travel demands. The Inspector rejected the Appellant’s argument that there were many villages and smaller settlements in the same rural area with similar travel characteristics, noting that they were “long established settlements” and did not justify creating a new residential estate. The Inspector acknowledged that the removal of unsightly factory buildings would be a public benefit but the loss of an innovative timber hyperbolic paraboloid roofed structure (the original 1950s egg and poultry packing station) would be detrimental and the introduction of a housing estate character would cause heritage harm. The Inspector also considered that the proposals would jeopardise the successful events business that now operated within the parkland to support the mansion because of the incompatible uses and that shared use of the estate access drive would be unsafe.

Whilst many of the issues in the case turned on the particular facts, a wider message for both developers and local planning authorities is that there are some rural locations which are inherently unsustainable for housing development, and “maximising the opportunities” for travel by sustainable modes will be to no avail if the end result is that few people will realistically take up those opportunities.

The appeal decision can be accessed HERE.

Michael Bedford QC and Dr Christina Lienen acted for Mid Suffolk District Council.