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Court of Appeal refuses Secretary of State Sandbach appeal

The Court of Appeal has upheld a High Court ruling that Secretary of State Eric Pickles must reconsider his refusal of plans for 280 homes on a greenfield site at Sandbach, Cheshire.

The High Court was entitled to require Pickles to reconsider the Fox Strategic Land application, because when dismissing the developer's appeal against Cheshire East Council's refusal for planning permission Pickles failed to have regard to similar planning applications, the Court of Appeal said.

The need for consistency in the planning process required like cases to be decided in a like manner, the Court ruled.

Pickles recovered the developers appeal against Cheshire East Council's refusal for his own determination last September. In his decision letter, Pickles refused the appeal on the grounds of prematurity.

An application must be weighed in the planning balance with the development plan policies, with regard to "settlement boundaries, the restriction on development in the countryside, and the loss of best and most versatile land unless absolutely unavoidable," said Pickles in his decision letter.

However, Pickles erred when he accorded no weight to a previous appeal decision in relation to a nearby site put forward by Richborough Estates, the High Court judge said in March.

Richborough's appeal against refusal of planning permission for 269 dwellings on another greenfield site was dismissed by the Secretary of State in July 2011, however, on appeal against the decision, the Secretary of State consented to the decision being quashed. This was three weeks after the decision Pickles made on Fox Strategic Land's case.

The judge found that some of the Secretary of State’s conclusions in the Richborough decision could not be reconciled with conclusions on the same topic in the Fox decision.

If the Secretary of State was to depart from the favourable spatial vision findings made in Richborough's case, the Court of Appeal said, he ought to have explained why he had done so. He had not, however, even begun to deal with the question.

The need for consistency in the planning process required like cases to be decided in a like manner, the court said. Although an inspector was free to disagree with an earlier decision, he could do so only where he had had regard to it and had given his reasons for departing from it, it said.

The High Court judge had therefore been entitled to reach the conclusion he did on that issue, the Court of Appeal said.

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