Communities secretary blocks 400 west Yorkshire homes

Out-Law News | 12 Mar 2015 | 5:19 pm | 2 min. read

Communities secretary Eric Pickles has dismissed an appeal that would have permitted the development of around 400 homes on grazing land in west Yorkshire, after deciding that the proposal would have an adverse impact on the character and identity of the local area.

Property management company Thornhill Estates (TE) applied to Leeds City Council in September 2012 for outline permission to build around 400 homes on 18 hectares of grazing land to the north of the town of Farsley. When the Council failed to decide the application within the time limit prescribed by law, TE appealed and the appeal was recovered for determination by the communities secretary.

Following a public inquiry in November 2013, planning inspector Mark Dakeyne recommended that the appeal should be allowed and planning permission granted for the scheme. The inspector had considered that the Council was unable to demonstrate a five year supply of housing land and that saved local plan policies seeking to restrict development at the site were out-of-date. He found that the scheme's negative impacts did not outweigh the benefits of boosting housing supply in the area.

The communities secretary decided in 2014 that the inquiry should be reopened in order to discuss further environmental issues and the Council's supply of housing. The inquiry was reopened in November, by which time the Council's local plan core strategy had been found sound. Dakeyne concluded that the Council was now able to demonstrate a five year supply of housing land. Considering the Council's housing policies to be up-to-date, the inspector this time found that the benefits of the scheme were outweighed by its negative impacts and recommended that the appeal should be dismissed.

A decision letter issued on behalf of the communities secretary this week said Pickles agreed with the inspector's second recommendation. The inspector had concluded that the appeal site maintained the separation between Farsley and the neighbouring village of Rodley, that it made an important contribution to public views in the area and that its development would adversely affect the setting of the Farsley Conservation Area (FCA). Pickles agreed that allowing the development would result in "an adverse impact on local character and identity and the loss of a site of intrinsic value", giving "particular regard to the desirability of preserving or enhancing the character or appearance of the FCA".

A saved policy from the 2006 Leeds Unitary Development Plan Review placed the site within a "protected area of search", within which only development necessary for existing uses or temporary development which would not prejudice long-term development would be allowed. Pickles gave "little weight" to the fact that the Council had indicated its intention to withdraw the policy, noting that "an intention to withdraw does not necessarily imply that all such sites should be released immediately" and that the Council proposed to publish a site allocations plan (SAP) later in 2015.

Pickles acknowledged that proposed mitigation measures meant the scheme was unlikely to result in harm to bats, which are protected by law. He found that the proposal would be sustainable in transport terms and that the site was sufficiently well connected to local services. The communities secretary was also satisfied that "neither concerns relating to educational provision … nor those relating to lack of health care provision … would provide reasons to resist the development."

However, Pickles decided, on balance, that the appeal should be dismissed. "The [communities secretary] is satisfied that the Council [has] now identified a five year supply of housing land in an up-to-date core strategy without the appeal site, so the presumption in the [National Planning Policy] Framework in favour of sustainable development does not apply," concluded the letter. "Furthermore, he considers that the adverse impacts on local character and identity count against the proposed scheme and considers it appropriate for the Council to proceed to identify the most sustainable sites through the preparation and adoption of their SAP."

TE, or any other interested party, has the right to challenge the decision in the High Court within six weeks.