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Developer fails in challenge to Rutland neighbourhood plan

A High Court judge has dismissed developer Larkfleet Homes’ (LH) challenge to Rutland County Council’s (RCC) decision in May to allow the Uppingham neighbourhood development plan (NDP) to proceed to referendum.

Following the designation of Uppingham in Rutland as a neighbourhood plan area in November 2012, Uppingham Town Council, together with community and business groups, prepared a neighbourhood plan allocating three sites for the development of a total of "at least 170 homes" between 2013 and 2026. An examiner recommended a modified version of the plan for referendum in May and 90% of those voting in the referendum on 10 July voted in favour of adoption of the plan.

LH, which had a commercial interest in a four hectare site in the northwest of the neighbourhood plan area which was not allocated for development, challenged RCC's decision to allow the Uppingham NDP to proceed to referendum. The developer argued that the allocation of particular sites for development in NDPs was not permitted by legislation and that the incorrect process had been followed in deciding whether a strategic environmental assessment was required.

In a decision dated 8 December, Mr Justice Collins said that claims made on behalf of the developer that site allocations were strategic in nature and outside the scope of NDPs were "clearly wrong". The judge noted that, while the government's National Planning Policy Framework required NDPs to be "in general conformity with the strategic policies of the local plan", Planning Practice Guidance specifically said that "a neighbourhood plan can allocate sites for development".

The judge said that regulations that appeared to restrict the allocation of sites to documents which were "prepared as local development documents" were "badly drafted" and concluded that "it would be surprising, indeed contrary to what a neighbourhood plan is supposed to achieve, if allocation of precise sites were not able to be dealt with in a neighbourhood plan".

Mr Justice Collins dismissed the developer's contention that the Council had failed to consider whether the Uppingham NDP determined the use of a small area at local level in deciding that an environmental assessment was not required. The judge noted that a table within the Council's screening report included the specific question: "Does the [plan or programme] determine the use of small areas at local level?", which the Council had fully answered.

The judge also dismissed the developer's claim that the Council's environmental screening report was rendered unlawful by a failure to consider positive effects that the Uppingham NDP might have on the environment. Mr Justice Collins conceded that the report writer's comments, in concentrating on and ruling out any significant negative effects, were "unhappily worded", but concluded that "he did not, however badly he expressed himself, fail to consider positive when he concluded that there were no significant effects".

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