High Court Green Lights 70 New Homes in Open Countryside
The relentless policy drive to build more new homes inevitably creates pressure to develop greenfield sites. In a case on point, the High Court opened the way for construction of 70 dwellings in the open countryside – even though there was no shortage of housing land in the area.
In refusing planning consent for the scheme, the local authority said that it would be an inappropriate and unjustified intrusion into the countryside. The site was also said to be poorly accessible, in that the shortest route to the local school and medical centre would be unlit, winding and unsafe for pedestrians.
Following a public inquiry, however, a government inspector granted permission for the development. He did so despite acknowledging that the council had in place a supply of housing land sufficient to last at least seven years, well in excess of the five-year supply required by the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). The inspector found that the economic and social benefits of the development would substantially outweigh any harm to the countryside.
Dismissing the council’s challenge to that decision, the Court could detect no error of law in the inspector’s conclusions. When balancing the advantages of the scheme against the harm to the countryside, he had given appropriate weight to the council’s success in meeting the five-year target. He was also entitled to take into account the fact that, in order to meet that target, the council had in the past granted consent for the development of other greenfield sites.
There was nothing irrational in the inspector giving limited weight to local countryside preservation policies which were more restrictive than the flexible and balanced approach adopted in the NPPF. Although the shortest walking route leading from the site to essential local facilities was hazardous, there was a longer route that was perfectly safe. The balancing exercise performed by the inspector was classically a matter of planning judgment with which the Court would not interfere.