Monday, 28 June 2010

Decisions under the new regime


Three Secretary of State’s appeal decisions have recently been published reflecting his revised approach following the announcement of the forthcoming abolition of regional strategies. In all three appeals he states that he has taken into account as a material consideration his own letter of 27 May (which he quotes verbatim). In all three cases, he made it clear that although the Regional Strategy currently constitutes part of the development plan, he affords it less weight in determining these appeals than he would have done prior to the publication of his letter. However he did not consider it necessary to refer back to the parties on the implications of this change of weight before reaching his decision as in two of the cases – in West Yorkshire and in Thurrock - he would anyway have refused planning permission for these proposal on the grounds that very special circumstances had not been demonstrated to justify allowing the release of land from the Green Belt, so that the proposals were not in line with the development plan in that respect.

In a housing appeal for 299 dwellings at East Tilbury, the Secretary of State records that it was accepted by all parties at the Inquiry that, as a matter of fact and irrespective of allocations in the East of England Plan (EEP), there is less than a 5 year supply of housing land in Thurrock. However, the extent of the shortfall was a major issue of contention, which the Inspector explored thoroughly, concluding that there is a serious shortfall in the 5 year supply of housing land. The Secretary of State agreed with the Inspector’s reasoning and conclusions that this shortfall represents a failure to deliver a flexible and responsive supply of housing in relation to the housing targets required by the EEP. He considered that this was a material consideration in favour of the appeal proposals and that, notwithstanding the fact that the weight he affords to this matter is tempered by affording less weight to the housing figures set out in the EEP than formerly, it needed to be considered in the overall balance. The appeal was allowed.

In another housing appeal, for up to 199 dwellings in Leighton Linslade, the Secretary of State, in applying the same approach to regional strategy, made it clear that he would anyway have refused planning permission for this proposal (even had, for example, the EEP housing targets been afforded their former weight) on the grounds that very special circumstances had not been demonstrated and that the proposal is not in line with the development plan - his reasons for doing so being set out in his decision letter.

Referring specifically to housing supply, he agreed with the Inspector’s reasoning and conclusions on whether the proposal would assist in meeting national housing policy objectives, having regard to the supply of housing. He agreed that the proposed housing provision, including affordable housing provision, would contribute to housing targets in an area identified for housing growth where there is a shortfall and this is a material consideration in favour of the appeal proposals. However, the weight he afforded to this matter was tempered by the fact that he affords less weight to the housing figures set out in the EEP than formerly. However, even had the EEP housing targets been afforded their former weight he did not consider that the contribution this proposal would make to meeting those targets would be of sufficient weight to demonstrate very special circumstances, either alone or in conjunction with those other factors which weight in favour of the proposal.

So in all three cases, the reduced weight given to regional strategies did not in the end affect the outcome of these appeals. Perhaps we should not be altogether surprised by this. The targets set by regional plans may no longer be given the same weight as before, but the objective studies and statistics on which those targets were based cannot be ‘abolished’, and will clearly continue to carry some weight in themselves.

© MARTIN H GOODALL

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