Success in the first virtual planning inquiry

03 Aug 2020

Planning and Environment

At the end of June, the first public inquiry to be held virtually was concluded. It concerned a development for up to 150 dwellings in Rayne, Essex. The inquiry heard from 12 witnesses over two weeks, all remotely, via MS Teams.

Dismissing the proposal, Inspector Mahoney found there to be significant harm to the character and appearance of the area and Grade II listed building. The benefit of 150 new homes did not outweigh the harm to the listed building, notwithstanding that the Council could only demonstrate between a 3.72-4.52 supply of housing sites.

5 top-tips for developers promoting development on greenfield sites:

  • If you are not a housebuilder, make sure you can show how the site will deliver and provide any relevant track record of moving sites from outline permission to a housebuilder. The Inspector found potential expressions of interest from housebuilders to be “weak” evidence (para.112).

  • Again, if you are not a housebuilder, make sure there is housebuilder buy-in before you offer a short timescale for the submission of reserved matters. As the time for submission of a reserved matter cannot be extended once imposed, unless there is early housebuilder involvement, tight timescales can make sites less attractive to housebuilders and consequentially delay delivery. The inspector was not swayed by a late offer to reduce the timescale from 3 years to 2 (fn.62).

  • Replacing an agricultural field, which is agreed to contribute towards the historic interest of a listed building as part of its setting, with a managed piece of open space within the development, is unlikely to be an appropriate response to an acknowledged heritage constraint (para.80). The Historic England guidance (The Setting of Heritage Assets – Good Practice Advice Note 3) is essential reading for those promoting schemes in the setting of heritage assets, and highlights a range of factors which assist land within the setting to contribute towards significance of listed buildings. Simply keeping a “buffer zone” of no development between a new scheme and a listed building will not always be the appropriate solution.

  • Just because a landscape is not “valued” or display any “unusual” or “valued features” does not mean its loss must carry limited weight in planning terms. Paragraph 170b NPPF enjoins decision makers to recognise the “intrinsic character and beauty” of the countryside. It follows that where a site displays those characteristics, convincing justification will be required before its loss will be permitted (para.67-68). However, unlike pre-NPPF policy, there is no blanket protection of the countryside “for its own sake”. A more nuanced approach now applies.

  • A lack of a five-year supply does not always engage the titled balance. Here, the Inspector found the harm to the heritage asset was not outweighed by the public benefits of the scheme. It followed that there was a “clear reason” for refusal under paragraph 11(d)(i) NPPF and, therefore, the titled balance was not engaged (paras.125-126).

Dr Ashley Bowes acted for the successful local planning authority, Braintree District Council.

The decision can be accessed here.