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'Localism' too vague to measure planning applications by, says High Court

'Localism' is not a concept against which planning applications can be measured, the High Court has said in a decision which has quashed a decision letter which had refused planning application for a development.

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (SSLG)'s letter had refused an appeal by Fox Strategic Land and Property Ltd against a refusal of a planning application for 290 dwellings in Sandbach, Cheshire.

But the much-anticipated ruling said that though 'localism' was an ill-defined concept, it in fact played no role in the decision letter itself so was not a reason in itself for it to be quashed.

The decision letter should be quashed because it contained a decision that was made on grounds inconsistent with another recent decision made in the same area, the court said. That decision related to a 269 dwelling development in Sandbach proposed by Richborough Estates. The inconsistencies might have been avoided had the decisions been taken together, the judge said.

"What happened here is that the SSCLG avoided addressing the issue by arguing that the Richborough appeal decision carried no weight. I reject that approach," said Judge Gilbart QC, sitting as a deputy High Court judge.

"I cannot direct the SSCLG on how he should approach redetermination. It is appropriate to point out however that if he has two appeals relating to similar proposals in the same town before him, he would run a much reduced risk of problems like this one occurring again if he decides to determine the two cases together," he said.

The Court said that the refusal of the appeal by Fox was not solely down to the issue of 'prematurity'. Prematurity is when permission is refused while new policies are being formulated. The Planning Policy Statement 3 (PPS 3), which is part of national planning policy, says that "Local Planning Authorities should not refuse applications solely on the grounds of prematurity". The Court found that this was not the case in the Fox decision.

It said, though, that it was “somewhat surprising” that the policy guidance in paragraph 72 of PPS3 was not cited in the decision. The Court ruling said that: “It will of course be for the SSLG to reflect on redetermination whether these reasons carry weight, in the light of their complete and striking absence from the Richborough decision".

The judge had said that though it was not in the end something on which the refusal was based, 'localism' as a concept is not one against which planning applications can be measured.

"The Inspector had based a very important part of her conclusions on a principle which at this stage has nothing about it against which one can measure a proposal," said the ruling. "The Decision Letter is not one which was written with as much care as it should have been, but ... when one looks at the decision letter of the SSCLG as a whole, it plays no part in it, and none in particular in his overall conclusions at paragraph 25."

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