Proposals for a major mixed-use development on the site of a vacant business park received the High Court’s blessing despite a town council’s arguments that it would result in an unacceptable loss of employment land.
The 4.2-hectare park consisted of a vacant warehouse and a two-storey office block. A developer wished to demolish both buildings and replace them with 1,511 square metres of office space, 129 new homes and a 68-bed care home.
In refusing to grant planning consent for the scheme, the local authority cited local planning policies which stated that developments involving loss of employment land would be permitted only if existing uses were no longer economically viable. Would-be developers were required to establish an absence of such viability by marketing sites at a reasonable price for at least a year.
On the basis that prior approval in principle had already been granted for conversion of the office block and its car park into 45 flats, the developer carried out a marketing exercise only in respect of the warehouse. It nevertheless successfully appealed against the council’s decision to a planning inspector who granted permission for the development.
The inspector found that the proposals were contrary to local employment protection policies because, as the office block had been left out of the marketing exercise, it had not been demonstrated that employment use of the whole of the site was no longer economically viable.
He noted, however, that the extant prior approval represented a fall-back position for the developer and that there was a real possibility of the 45-flat development coming to fruition. The marketing exercise showed that continued employment use of the warehouse was unviable. Those factors, the inspector found, outweighed policy objections to the development.
Dismissing the town council’s challenge to that outcome, the Court found that the inspector had neither misunderstood nor misapplied development plan policies. His conclusions were rational and he gave intelligible and adequate reasons for a decision which represented a legitimate exercise of his planning judgment.