The second post NPPF call in concerns Springfield Hospital in Wandsworth.
This is a very controversial case where a bold masterplan involves building on some Metropolitan Open Land (land within London like Hyde Park given the same protection as Green Belt) is compensated for by a new public park with many new pitches (replacing a golf course). I have always supported the proposal as a good example of ‘design led’ masterplanning where the quality of the solution is key. None the less it has split the local community down the middle with the Wandsworth Society in favour and more local groups and local mps against.
It was approved , rightly, but the way it was justified simply applied the wrong test. MOL is protected by the London Plan which states, as policy for London has for over 25 years, that national policy for Green Belt applies to it. In any such case then the argument needs to be justified in Pehrsson/Tesco terms it is not enough to argue as the inspector and SoS do here that it wouldnt be so harmful and so comply with London Plan policy. Wouldnt be that harmful is not the test, inappropriate development is automatically harmful. The key issue is whether the harm to the openness of the MOL and other harm is outweighed by the benefits – the Tesco case test. How many cases have been overturned (not so many in recent years as inspectors got used to it) for fialing to mapply this.
But failing to apply it the Insp and SoS did. The question asked should have been is it inappropriate, yes, ok so automatically harmful so lets look at the harm according to the MOL principles in the London Plan, see if the development could be located elsewhere outside MOL (no) and overall see if benefits outweigh harm. That is nowhere in the report. I find this staggering especially as the SoS on the very same day gave a model Tesco compliant decision. What is worse a key issue at the appeal hearing was the interpretation of PPG2 annex A. The SoS simply ignored the fact that this had been abolished by the time of the appeal and so gave no interpretation of how he interpreted the issue of footprint on openness. It simply seems that both the insp and the SoS didnt realise that MOL has the same legal status as Green Belt and the SoS did not reliase that his decision would need to provide reasoning for his conculsion on footporint that did not rely on policy which he himself had cancelled.
Sadly another DCLG omnishambles.
Under rational times and circumstances the following decision letter would be a predictable one with no leftfield application or interpretation of policy. Just the Tesco Green Belt Test
Key parts of the letter
21. The Secretary of State considers that the proposal constitutes inappropriate development in the Green Belt and would also be harmful to the Green Belt in other ways. He attaches substantial weight to this harm and has gone on to consider whether the harm identified can be clearly outweighed by other considerations amounting to very special circumstances.
22. Having taken into account all of the considerations above, the Secretary of State concludes, like the Inspector, that the beneficial effects of the proposal amount to very special circumstances, and are of sufficient weight to clearly outweigh the harm to the Green Belt, and other harm.
This Week Pickles refused to call in the Urmiston out of town retail scheme on the edge of York, which included a John Lewis department store, flagrantly breached the NPPF and was the final nail in the coffin leading to the withdrawl of the York CS as potential investors in a rival town centre scheme have threatened to pull out.
If Pickles wont call this scheme in he never will on any out of centre retail scheme , unless schemes judged to have ‘national implications’ seem to warrant call in, in the current no-call in post NPPF policy and no such scheme post NPPF has come along, indeed we might be waiting a very long time.
So now we have a ‘town centre first’ policy which is rendered meaningless as all a developer has to do to get around it is to either buy some council owned land or enable a development such as a community stadium or park and ride site that the Council want to see. It will then be recommended despite the NPPF and Pickles wont call in.
So the Town Centre First Policy becomes a weak and dying one breached in practice, no hard means of enforcement. It also shows the NPPF itself to be a paper tiger, easily subverted by cash for consents with Pickles perfectly happy to call such corruption of Good Planning ‘localism’ . This T Dan Hill view of loco-corporatism of course undermines localism as it simply becomes the triumph of those development interest that get into bed with local politicians, rather than local politicians acting quasi judicially over locally derived solutions.
DCLG seems to have decided to call in as few decisions as possible following finalisation of the NPPF.
All in the name of localism, although the Liverpool Waters call in decision will be difficult as it involves international treaty obligations.
We cant be sure how many call ins/recovereds still require decision from earlier (the DCLG online database seems seriously screwed up) however we do know of three major cases that are either on the SoS’s desk or will be very shortly.
Firsltly the Rail Freight Interchange at St Albans where parties have been invited to comment on the implications of the NPPF. Here the decision has already been subject to JR and has been referred back. The site is Green Belt but the use is needed in the national interest so the policy issue, both before the NPPF and now, is whether there is a less harmful alternative site. That site being near Slough. So Pickles will, horror upon horrors, have to do some ‘regional planning’ in the decision and one way or another give a signal on which which site should be released from Green Belt – in line with national policy.
The second case is the Wakefield Rugby Ground +enabling development. This site is proposed to be removed from Green Belt in the emerging Local plan and the examiner has just approved this. This leaves the SoS, if only technically, left with approving a major development in the Green Belt. So much for the Green Belt being ‘inviolate’ (which an ignorant bit of sphort term populism that statement was).
The final case is the West of Shottery urban extension case at Stratford-upon-Avon, which we have covered here before. Here the SoS will face the dilemma of an allocation in an adopted plan and the bizarre manoeuvres of the council trying to undermine the site it promoted for over a decade on the familiar ‘of we wish this controversial planning stuff would all go away’ grounds.
Any one of the decisions would make headlines and almost certain legal challenge if Pickles did a Michael Howard and made decisions irrespective of advice and almost certain defeat in the courts. Sheridan must be having kittens over how to spin this – a few hairs for once might be out of place.
A great deal of column inches might be spilt in terms of how minister are interpreting the NPPF. However in all 3 cases the principal policy issues would have been the same before the NPPF, it simply is a case of following national policy (largely unchanged on these key issues through and properly weighing and balancing issues as any decision taker has to do under any policy regime). The real story is whether the SoS is capable of such a judgement of Solomon or will play a populist card irrespective of policy.