Friday, 13 May 2016
Class Q – Sustainability of location
Notwithstanding the clearly stated ministerial policy on this issue in the online Planning Practice Guidance, as revised in March 2015, there are still some LPAs that seek to resist permitted development under Class Q on the basis of ‘sustainability of location’. I am grateful to my correspondent William Ashley for drawing my attention to an example of this in a recent appeal in Sawbridgeworth (E. Herts DC), decided on 12 May 2016 .
There was no dispute in this case that the qualifying criteria of Class Q had been satisfied, and the LPA raised no concerns in relation to noise, contamination, flood risk, design or the transport or highways impacts of the proposal. The appeal therefore turned solely on whether or not the location or siting of the building made it otherwise impractical or undesirable for residential use.
The LPA submitted that the online PPG, as guidance, contravenes the NPPF (particularly paragraph 55) and that the unsustainable location could not be mitigated. The LPA claimed that their view was supported by (undisclosed) legal advice stating that its interpretation of the GPDO was correct as a matter of law, and they relied on paragraph W.10(b) of Part 3 that LPAs must have regard to the NPPF, so far as relevant to the subject matter of the prior approval, as if the application were a planning application. However, the Inspector rejected this narrow approach. The PPG (as updated in March 2015) is clear that Class Q does not apply a test in relation to sustainability of location, given the inherent rural location of agricultural buildings.
His view was that Class Q needs to be seen as part of a wider and more positive approach in considering appropriate opportunities, such as the re-use of rural buildings, to meet housing need in rural areas. This is reflected in paragraph 109 of the PPG as follows. “That an agricultural building is in a location where the local planning authority would not normally grant planning permission for a new dwelling is not a sufficient reason for refusing prior approval.”
On this basis, the Inspector found that the amended PPG on permitted development rights for the change of use of agricultural buildings, in a specific and defined way, complements the growth agenda advocated in the NPPF rather than necessarily introducing an in-built tension. He was not therefore persuaded that, in applying paragraph W.10(b) with regard to the NPPF, the provisions of paragraphs 108 and 109 of the PPG should be regarded as erroneous and that they should consequently be discounted.
In this particular case the appeal site was readily accessible, services could be made available and it was not truly isolated from other households. The Inspector was also satisfied that there were no agricultural operations or activities taking place nearby that might harm the living conditions of future occupiers. Accordingly, he considered that the location and siting were neither undesirable nor impractical, and so the provisions of Class Q(a) and (b) would be satisfied.
It occurs to me to wonder whether East Herts were deliberately looking for a fight in a case that they might possibly take on to the High Court. They have just under six weeks left now in which to apply for permission to proceed in the High Court. It all depends what counsel advises, if they are minded to take that course, although I would be surprised if such a challenge were to succeed, particularly bearing in mind the Inspector’s finding that this location was not in fact unsustainable in any event.
© MARTIN H GOODALL