Out-Law News | 03 Sep 2014 | 5:18 pm | 2 min. read
In an open letter to Brandon Lewis dated 15 August, leader of Cheshire East Council Michael Jones said that the Council was "doing everything we can to ensure that we are supporting the government's efforts to increase the supply of affordable housing", but that the Council's efforts to protect itself against unsuitable development pending the adoption of its local plan were being undermined by appeal decisions made by planning inspectors.
Jones complained in his letter of "a distinct lack of consistency with the decisions" of planning inspectors in relation to figures given for the district's housing supply, and argued that "the [Planning] Inspectorate is giving far greater weight to the arguments being put forward by developers than those of the Council and local residents".
On the same day, a planning inspector allowed an appeal from developer Richborough Estates against the Council’s decision to refuse permission for a 250-home development on 12 hectares of agricultural land on the edge of the village of Haslington.
Using similar reasoning followed in two successful appeals by the same developer earlier in August, planning inspector B.S. Rogers said in his decision letter (16-page / 156 KB PDF) that the full objectively assessed need (FOAN) for housing in the district was "highly unlikely to be any less than 1,350 dwellings per annum".
As in earlier appeals, the Council had argued that the FOAN was 1,150 homes, the figure given in the revoked North West Regional Strategy, which was based on data from 2003. However, the inspector concluded that this figure was constrained by policy that "focus[ed] development on the main urban areas in the North West" and noted that the Council had used a figure of 1,350 dwellings per year in documents supporting its emerging local plan. "I find it hard to understand how the Council can distance itself from its own evidence base to support the Cheshire East Local Plan," said Rogers.
Applying a 20% buffer to housing figures due to the Council's "failure to meet the housing requirement in the district for six years out of the last ten", and adding an agreed shortfall of 1,560 dwellings to the total, the inspector calculated that the Council could demonstrate only a 4.3 year supply of deliverable housing land.
Since policies relating to the supply of housing in the district were out of date and a five year supply of housing could not be demonstrated, Rogers said that, in accordance with the National Planning Policy Framework, "permission should be granted unless the adverse impact of doing so would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits".
Allowing the appeal, the inspector found that the proposals offered "desperately" needed good quality family housing, including 74 affordable homes; around 90 full time jobs during construction; and the injection of "estimated expenditure into the local economy of over £27 million". The site was well located for local facilities and transport links to Crewe, and the proposals would not cause "undue harm" to the rural setting of Haslington village or to the setting of the listed Haslington Hall, the inspector said.
Rogers said that the "need for housing and the lack of lower grade alternative sites" outweighed the harm that would be caused by the loss of best and most versatile agricultural land under the proposals and also considered the benefits of the developer's proposed contributions towards local highway and cycle route improvements.