Urban playing fields may be an invaluable community resource but, in the midst of a national housing crisis, they can be a tempting target for development. That was precisely the situation confronted by the High Court in a guideline case.
The case concerned a green space in a city centre location that local residents had laboured to restore to informal use as a playing field. Despite having received more than 350 objections, including from Sport England, the local authority granted itself outline planning permission to build up to 61 affordable homes on the site. A local community interest company (CIC) challenged the permission by way of judicial review.
The permission was issued on the strength of a planning officer’s report which stated that the proposal was acceptable in both local and national planning policy terms. It pointed to the public benefits of the development – not least the provision of 100 per cent affordable housing – and emphasised that the site had long been allocated for residential development.
Attached to the permission would be conditions requiring the provision of on-site green space together with compensatory measures in the form of relocation of any lost sporting facilities elsewhere in the city and/or the improvement of existing facilities in the locality.
However, in upholding the CIC’s challenge, the Court found that there had been no consideration of a local development plan policy which imposed rigorous restraints on the development of playing fields in the city. Those restraints went beyond those contained in the National Planning Policy Framework and, properly interpreted, the policy meant that no such development would be permitted unless it resulted in a demonstrable net gain in overall pitch quality and provision within the same locality. The permission was quashed.