JR Overturns Windfarm on Grounds that Decision Did Not reflect ‘Plan Led’ System – First ‘Degree of Consistency’ challenge
This is a real precedent , it seems a case where the Inspector simply used sloppy language- decision letter here.
Yesterday, Judge Mackie at London’s High Court ruled that the inspector failed to attach proper weight to policies in the council’s local development plan relating to protecting the landscape, heritage assets in the area and residential amenity.
The council is now seeking the judge’s confirmation of an order quashing the planning permission, and ordering the communities secretary, Eric Pickles, to have the matter reconsidered.
While acknowledging that the court should not readily interfere with an inspector’s decision, the judge said: “Nevertheless many people see their lives as being fundamentally affected by a decision to permit a large wind farm in their community. They are entitled to know whether the law has been followed by an Inspector whose decision is so crucial to them.”
He said that there was no doubt that the inspector identified the relevant development plan and “conscientiously weighed up the competing factors”.
However, he continued: “But as I read the decision she did not accord the development plan the priority required by law. At no point does she mention the priority due to the plan or express herself in terms that indicate that she is aware of the ‘plan led’ concept.”
“Recognising that I need to read the decision in a down to earth way as a whole and in context I detect no identification of the priority to be given to the plan. The exercise is a careful evaluation of competing considerations without any indication that the plan has priority.”
I need to read the decision in a down to earth way as a whole and in context, I detect no identification of the priority to be given to the plan. The exercise is a careful evaluation of competing considerations without any indication that the plan has priority,’ the judge concluded.
This was not the only grounds for challenge – but this was the only one upheld. South Northants had challenged on
“We believe that the Inspector did not follow the provision of the law when considering the balance between heritage and renewable energy, and failed to have ‘special regard’ for the desirability of preserving the listed buildings and conservation areas which the law requires. Instead only the provisions of the NPPF were applied.”
Which was dismissed
Broadview Energy has reacted with disappointment to news that planning permission has been quashed for the proposed Spring Farm Ridge wind farm, following a successful legal challenge in the High Court by a local resident and South Northamptonshire Council.
Planning permission was granted by the government’s Planning Inspectorate for the erection of five wind turbines on agricultural land between the villages of Helmdon, Greatworth and Sulgrave in July of 2012, after completion of a two week long public inquiry. Following the granting of planning permission, a legal challenge was launched by South Northamptonshire Council and a local resident claiming that the inspector’s decision was unlawful on five separate grounds.
A High Court hearing subsequently took place in December of last year and the ruling, which was announced today, quashed the planning permission. It is important to note that the judge dismissed four of the five grounds in the challenges, specifically the impact assessments with respect to listed buildings, cultural heritage, noise and residential amenity. However, the remaining challenge did succeed, as Judge Mackie concluded that the planning inspector’s decision letter did not meet planning law requirements. Despite the decision in the High Court, the Spring Farm Ridge site is a well designed wind farm in an excellent location and Broadview will look to the Planning Inspectorate to initiate the process of re-determining the planning appeal.
Jeffrey Corrigan, Managing Director of Broadview Energy said: “We are obviously disappointed the judge has found that the inspector did not follow what was required of her by law when issuing her decision. This is especially so following the completion of an extensive and thorough public inquiry which was the culmination of a number of years of work resulting in significant cost for all parties. It is important to recognise that the main substance of the inspector’s judgement as to the acceptability of the scheme was not called into question and we will therefore look to work closely with the government’s Planning Inspectorate regarding the next steps.”
The decision is interesting in that the local plan was adopted in 2007, i.e. prior to the 12 month 2004 deadline in the NPPF para 214. where existing plans are given full weight so
215. In other cases and following this 12-month period, due weight should be given to relevant policies in existing plans according to their degree of
consistency with this framework (the closer the policies in the plan to the policies in the Framework, the greater the weight that may be given).
And the plan has no policies at all on renewable energy.
However the decision letter completely omits the legal duties concerning the plan led system and to what extent national policy in the NPPF can overturn these – sadly sloppy.
On redetermination however I think it is almost certain to be approved.