Pickles backs emerging neighbourhood plan by blocking 120-home scheme in housing shortfall area

Out-Law News | 08 Sep 2014 | 5:07 pm | 2 min. read

Secretary of state for communities and local government (SoS) Eric Pickles has refused outline planning permission for a 120-home development in an area with a significant shortfall in its supply of housing land, after applying “significant weight” to the fact that the development was contrary to policies in the emerging neighbourhood plan.

Pickles' decision was at odds with the opinion of a planning inspector, who recommended the proposals for approval, giving "limited weight" to policies in the emerging Hurstpierpoint and Sayers Common neighbourhood plan (NP). When the planning inspector's inquiry was held, preparation of the NP had been in its early stages, Pickles noted, whereas by the time the SoS came to make his decision it had already been submitted for examination and thus merited more weight in the planning balance.

In April 2012, developer Woodcock Holdings Limited applied to Mid-Sussex District Council for outline permission to build 120 homes, a community facility with office space, a care home and retail units on 6 hectares of fields in the village of Sayers Common in West Sussex. The Council refused permission, citing the impact of the proposed development on a neighbouring Grade II-listed building and concerns about drainage, transport and infrastructure issues. The developer appealed and the appeal was recovered by the SoS for determination.

Following an appeal inquiry, planning inspector Jennifer Vyse recommended in January that the appeal be allowed and planning permission be granted. While the emerging NP allocated the site for only 30 to 40 homes, and did not permit development until existing drainage infrastructure issues had been resolved, the inspector found that "relatively limited weight can be given to the NP, since its adoption process still has quite a way to go, and it could be that policies change along the way."

Since the Council was unable to demonstrate a five-year supply of housing land, retained policies in the local plan that sought to protect open countryside from development could not be considered up to date, Vyse said. Concluding that the proposals represented "sustainable development", the inspector found that the impact of the proposed development on the setting of the listed Aymers and Sayers agricultural cottages would be “less than substantial” and that the benefits of development, in terms of housing supply and economic growth in the area, outweighed any harm.

Disagreeing with the inspector’s recommendation, Pickles said in his decision letter (48-page / 303 KB PDF) on 4 September that, having been submitted for examination in May, the emerging NP could now be given more weight than when it was considered at the appeal inquiry. Although he agreed with the inspector that the NP "should not promote less development than is required to meet the housing needs of the area", Pickles noted that there were currently no up-to-date housing figures against which the NP could be tested.

"The SoS considers it appropriate ... to give local people an opportunity to ensure they get the right types of development for their community while also planning positively to support strategic development needs," wrote Pickles. "The SoS has therefore given significant weight to the fact that the emerging NP has identified housing allocations elsewhere within the NP area and that the Council has yet to complete an up-to-date objectively assessed housing needs analysis against which to measure the overall NP proposals."

Pickles agreed with the inspector that the appeal site was "acceptable in terms of its locational characteristics and economic growth and, in principle, in boosting significantly the supply of housing." However, dismissing the appeal, the SoS decided that the planning balance weighed in favour of the policies in the emerging NP and that, although it might be decided later in the examination process that more land might be required to be allocated under the NP, "it would be inappropriate to prejudge that at this stage".

The developer has the right to challenge Pickles' decision within six weeks of the decision date.