Posted by: Adam Roake | June 27, 2010

Pickles approves housing in the Green Belt

In a curious twist of fate, Pickles’ first planning decision as Secretary of State involves allowing a housing scheme located in the Green Belt (299 dwellings on land at Bata Field, East Tilbury Essex,see Planning 25/06).  The Inspector’s Report is dated 20th April, pre-dating Pickle’s infamous letter of 27th May regarding RSS housing targets, so it is no surprise that the Inspector concludes as follows:

361.     I conclude there is a serious shortfall in housing land supply in Thurrock, and an inability to deliver a flexible supply of housing land as required by PPS 3. This in an area where the East of England Plan sets ambitious targets and where there is a strong emphasis on delivery [42]. From the evidence given at the Inquiry I consider that that situation cannot be resolved without consideration being given to the release of Green Belt sites [190]. This has been recognised by TBC as the plan making authority and by TTGDC in a recent decision on development at the Aveley By-pass site. While I acknowledge the difficulties faced, and notwithstanding efforts being made by the planning authorities to bring identified sites forward, I do not consider that there is any clear alternative strategy in place for remedying the shortfall [97, 198, 199].

362.     There is also a demonstrable shortfall in affordable housing completions measured against need which weighs substantially in favour of allowing the scheme [75]. The quality of design and sensitivity to its setting also weighs in favour of the scheme. Taken together I conclude that these amount to material considerations which clearly outweigh the harm to the Green Belt by reason of inappropriateness, and the harm by reason of loss of openness and encroachment on the countryside. I am therefore satisfied that the necessary very special circumstances exist in this case to warrant allowing the appeal.

 One might expect Pickles to have asked the parties whether they thought his letter affected matters but he didn’t, reasoning in his decision letter as follows:

11.    The Secretary of State has also taken into account as a material consideration his letter of 27 May 2010 in which he stated “I am writing to you today to highlight our commitment ….”. Consequently, notwithstanding that the EEP currently constitutes part of the development plan, the Secretary of State affords it less weight in determining this appeal than he would have done prior to the publication of his letter. However, he does not consider it necessary to refer back to parties on the implications of this change of weight before reaching his decision as he would anyway have granted planning permission for this proposal for the reasons given in this letter.

Pickles’ summary of the Housing supply issue states:

13    It was accepted by all parties at the Inquiry that, as a matter of fact and irrespective of allocations in the EEP, there is less than a 5 year supply of housing land in Thurrock (IR314). However, the extent of the shortfall was a major issue of contention, which the Inspector explored thoroughly (IR315-335), concluding (IR336) that there is a serious shortfall in the 5 year supply of housing land. The Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector’s reasoning and conclusions that this shortfall represents a failure to deliver a flexible and responsive supply of housing in relation to the housing targets required by the EEP. He considers that this is a material consideration in favour of the appeal proposals and that, notwithstanding the fact that the weight he affords to this matter is tempered by affording less weight to the housing figures set out in the EEP than formerly, it needs to be considered in the overall balance.

And in his overall conclusions he writes:

23    The Secretary of State concludes that the appeal proposal would cause harm to the Green Belt by reason of inappropriateness and that there would also be harm to the purposes of the Green Belt by reason of inappropriateness and loss of openness. However, recognising that there is a need for more land to be brought forward for housing in the Thurrock area, he gives significant weight to the quality of design of the proposed scheme and its sensitivity to its setting, and he concludes that these together amount to very special circumstances sufficient to justify allowing the appeal.

Clearly then the RSS figures do still have some ill-defined materiality “… in favour of the appeal” and should “… be considered in the overall balance“. However the conclusion appears to suggest that high quality design and sensitivity to setting are the key criteria in demonstrating very special circumstances sufficient to allow development in the Green Belt, whilst lack of housing land is merely to be recognised. This is clumsy wording and on the face of it, a well designed scheme in the Green Belt that is sensitive to its setting (surely fundamental requirements for any planning application to succeed, never mind one in the Green Belt) should be granted permission, notwithstanding harm to the Green Belt. Even with the most favourable reading, it is clear that in Pickles’ view the inability to demonstrate a five year supply of land will continue to be seen as an invitation to develop in the Green Belt. It would seem that far from protecting Green Belt and returning housing decisions to Local Authorities, Pickles is quite prepared to impose housing development from the centre, even on Green Belt land, if Local Authorities have not identified enough land to meet demand. Local decision making is fine so long as they make the right decision!

For developers this appeal decision should be good news. In essence, it is business as usual. They might have to work a little bit harder at identifying the appropriate annual housing requirement (it’s no longer handed to you by the RSS although it might be the LPA’s own Option 1 figures) but provided they can do that and they can show the LPA have not identified the land to meet a five year supply, they should get their permission. Even on Green Belt land, provided they have a well designed scheme that is sensitive to its setting.

For Local Authorities this decision is not so comforting. They might be able to ignore RSS housing targets but they do so at their peril, as I’ve argued before. They will need to have their own robust and evidenced targets in place quickly to avoid open season for housing development in their area. How different those targets might be from the RSS figures is difficult to say, because the Option 1 figures are probably unsound (see also Peter Village QC’s opinion in Regeneration and Renewal), if they were rejected at the RSS Inquiry. That means they will need to do quite some considerable work to prove lower demand if they want to adopt lower figures and at a time when they are having to cut back on all staff, including planning staff, that could be seriously problematic.

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Responses

  1. […] as claiming Localism, Localism and Localism as his three main priorities but we’ve already seen how that translates into planning decisions, which don’t necessarily reflect local opinion. So there seems to be a lot of […]

  2. […] In the meantime, they are still required to identify a fifteen year land supply, the first five of which must be ‘deliverable’ (Q.13, unlucky for some!). If they haven’t done this yet, and a surprising number of southern LPAs haven’t, then as the latest PPS 3 puts it, “they should consider favourably planning applications for housing”. And despite Pickles protestations that the Green Belt is safe in his hands (Q.22), we know this includes housing development in the Green Belt. […]


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