The demand for new housing is such that the preservation of village life and historic built environments cannot always prevail. In a case on point, the High Court upheld planning permission for the development of hundreds of new homes despite fierce objections from local residents and Historic England.
Subject to numerous conditions, the local authority granted outline planning consent for the demolition of equestrian stud facilities and their replacement with up to 205 new homes. The site was close to a scenic village and the impact of the development on a conservation area and listed buildings in the vicinity was a controversial issue.
Historic England objected to the proposal as presented on grounds that it would inflict a high level of harm on the village’s historic built environment. The council’s own conservation officer also objected on the basis that harm, albeit less than substantial harm, would be caused to that environment.
The council based its decision on a planning officer’s report which recommended in favour of the development. Members of the planning committee were advised that the clear public benefits of the proposal, which would include 35 per cent affordable housing provision, outweighed the less than substantial harm it would cause to the significance of designated heritage assets.
Crucially, the report pointed out that the council could only demonstrate that it had in hand a 3.67-year supply of housing land, well short of the five-year supply required by the National Planning Policy Framework. For that reason, a tilted balance had to be applied and there was a presumption in favour of granting planning permission.
A local campaign group, which opposed overdevelopment in the area and sought to protect the historic character and ambience of the village, mounted a judicial review challenge to the permission. It asserted that a development plan policy concerning the mix of size and type of market housing in new developments was completely overlooked in the decision-making process.
In rejecting that argument, the Court emphasised the importance of interpreting local planning policies with a practical view as to what they are designed to achieve. It found that there was, in fact, no development plan policy to be applied in relation to open market housing mix. There was therefore no legal error in the approach taken in the officer’s report.
The campaign group’s plea that the planning committee was misled by the officer’s report was also rejected. The report supported the proposition that the site was capable of accommodating 205 homes and councillors were placed under no illusion that they would, in principle, be entitled to insist on a smaller number of homes at a later stage in the planning process.