Thursday, 29 September 2011
Cala Homes lose in Winchester
The Secretary of State’s decision has been issued on Cala Homes’ proposal two build 2,000 dwellings plus various community facilities at Barton Farm, near Winchester. This decision involved rejecting the Inspector’s recommendation that planning permission should be granted.
I have not seen the decision letter itself, but Cala Homes seem to have won the argument over the principle of developing the site and other issues relating to the site itself, and I understand that the decision accepts that the housing target figure in the still extant South East Plan is a sound basis for assessing housing need. Furthermore, it seems that Winchester does not have a 5-year housing land supply. Various other material considerations also appeared to favour the grant of planning permission.
However, it seems that the developer’s proposals have been rejected primarily on grounds of prematurity in relation to the timing of Winchester’s emerging core strategy. This was a familiar reason for rejecting proposals in the past, although it does not appear to be in accordance with the draft NPPF, which now calls for permission to be granted in the absence of an up-to-date development plan. The weight which can be given to the draft NPPF is admittedly limited while the current consultation on the document is continuing, but the Secretary of State does not appear to have followed his own emerging policy.
Rather surprisingly, having regard to the apparent change of direction foreshadowed by the draft NPPF, it seems that the Secretary of State has placed greater emphasis in this decision on the concept of ‘localism’. It would appear that some weight has been given to the fact that the site is identified as a reserve site in the LPA’s Local Plan Review (2006) which was to be released only if there is a "compelling justification". Loss of farmland and landscape impact were further factors which swung the decision against development.
When one considers all the points which would seem to have favoured a grant of planning permission in this case, it is a little difficult to understand how a refusal can be justified. Cala Homes’ lawyers will no doubt be poring over the decision letter in great detail but, even on a very superficial outsider’s view, this decision would appear to be potentially challengeable. The only uncertainty is whether a successful legal challenge would ultimately lead to a different outcome. By the time the matter is re-determined, the South East Plan will probably have been scrapped, and Winchester’s new core strategy will be in place. But Cala Homes have not shown any reluctance to pursue legal proceedings against the Secretary of State over the past couple of years, so maybe they will take a punt at it in the hope that they might still win through in the end.
© MARTIN H GOODALL