Last week saw the issue of an appeal decision relating to land within a settlement village of Northumberland, following a Public Inquiry that had taken place across 2016 and 2017 respectively.
The appeal, made by Barrett David Wilson North East against Northumberland County Council is made with regard to the delivery of 285 residential dwellings with associated infrastructure and landscaping within the village of New Hartley, Northumberland.
The Inspector allowed the appeal and planning permission was granted for the scheme; for clarity this particular village has previously been identified as a minor settlement, which in ideal circumstances could be subject to some incremental housing development for the benefit of village growth. It was however certainly not expected to be subject to the delivery of such a large volume of residential development.
The outcome of the appeal is a clear example of the approach that is taken to major applications of residential housing where a Council cannot identify a 5-year housing supply. In this instance the particular circumstances are slightly different to usual; the Council actually had identified an Objectively Assessed Housing Need and had produced a Draft Core Strategy which upon examination could if adopted have proven a 5-year housing supply. However for reasons that are not necessarily important with regard to this advice note, the Council’s Core Strategy and as such its entire Local Plan was withdrawn from further consideration and with it its Evidence Base.
The Inspector was duty bound to make a decision on the consideration of the main issues: whether the Council could demonstrate a 5-year supply of housing land; the effects of the proposed development on infrastructure and sustainable access to employment, shops and services; and the effect of the proposed development on the character of the village and other locally important landscape designations.
Central Government has set its stall out with regards to the application of Paragraph 14 of the National Planning Policy Framework. The moment that the Council withdrew its entire evidence base it was not able to defend itself with regard to demonstrating a 5-year housing land supply. The Council did however try, by demonstrating that, by way of permissions it had granted over the recent period of time it is likely that allocation be met, however without the evidence base to hand to support it, and as such without the ability to meet the requirements of Paragraph 49 of the NPPF, the Inspector had no choice but to engage bullet point 4 of Paragraph 14 which identifies that planning permission should be granted unless any adverse effects of doing so would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits.
The Council attempted to overcome this particular position by suggesting that the adverse effects of granting the proposal by way of substantial harm to heritage and landscape assets would outweigh the benefits of delivering the housing, particularly with regard to the existing infrastructure afforded to the village itself and the fact that the village was not seen initially as an area that could provide such large housing supply.
However the tilted balance afforded to the provision of housing supply with regard to paragraph 14 is considered by the Inspector to clearly outweigh the prescribed harm that could be afforded to localised landscape and Heritage designations in the circumstances where a Council cannot identify a 5-year housing supply. The same balance approach also took place with regard to the less than prescriptively ideal highways impacts provided by the site. The tilted balance still sat in favour of delivery of the scheme.
I am of the opinion that this decision provides an extremely clear snapshot of the application of tilted balance, the weight that can be attributed to physical and environmental designations when relying on them as providing an “adverse” position with regard to bullet point 4 of Paragraph 14, and the appropriate use of policies that can or cannot be related to housing supply with regard to Paragraph 49 (in a post- world).
As housing pressures grow and the consistency of delivery of robust local plans prepared by local authorities does not increase above poor adoption statistics, I can see the outcome of this appeal decision becoming a more centralised theme on major applications across the remainder of 2017 and 2018.
As such with residential developers in mind, applications that are prepared for areas where it is clear that a 5-year housing supply cannot be robustly identified should make sure that there is the provision of a clear consideration of tilted balance in planning statements. Emphasis should be placed on essentially writing an appeal decision to the council in the initial submission, so that attempts to use environmental or designation circumstances to avoid facing up to their 5 year supply duties are called out at the earliest stage.
MRICS BSc (Hons) RICS Accredited Expert Witness
NextPhase Development Ltd.