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High Court quashes 116-home St Albans scheme refusal

A Planning Inspector was wrong to use Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS) figures as a base for a Council's projected housing need, a High Court judge has ruled . 

Developer Hunston Properties' proposals to build 116 homes and a care home on a 5-hectare site of open field land located "almost entirely" within the Green Belt had been rejected by St Albans Council in February 2012. The refusal was subsequently upheld by a Planning Inspector in March this year.

The Inspector had concluded that, because the Council did not have an identified unmet housing need based on a yearly construction target of 360 homes set out in the revoked RSS for the East of England, there were no "very special circumstances" to justify what would be inappropriate development in the Green Belt. 

However, the judge said he could not see how it could be open to a Council or an Inspector to reach a conclusion as to whether that very special circumstance had been made out by reference to a figure "that does not even purport to reflect the full objectively assessed needs for market and affordable housing applicable at the time the figure was arrived at".

He said that the proper course to be taken by the Inspector would have involved "assessing need, then identifying the unfulfilled need having regard to the supply of specific deliverable sites over the relevant period".

"Once that had been done, it was necessary next to decide whether fulfilling the need in fact demonstrated together clearly outweighed the identified harm to the Green Belt that would be caused by the proposed development," the judge said.

The judge accepted the claim by Hunston that the best evidence of the Council's housing need, in the absence of a strategic local plan, would be projections published by the Department for Communities and Local Government. Had these figures been used, the Council would have been shown to have a shortfall in its deliverable housing sites.

The Council had attempted to adopt the RSS housing target through a Cabinet resolution as “an interim target”. However, the judge said that this did not fill the policy vacuum created by the revocation of the RSS where there was no up to date local plan.

The judge concluded that the approach adopted by the Inspector was "wrong in law" and quashed her dismissal of Hunston's appeal which will now be reconsidered.

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