The SoS has permitted and outline application for 1.150 dwellings, a scool and a 34 Ha park on the edge of Lytham St Annes on a site not allocation in the local plan. together with an M55 link Road serving it (part of which would be in the Green Belt). This was a key site with history regarding Pickles Policy on Prematurity.
It is the first major test of the application of the NPPF policies on prematurity, housing supply and greenfield site protection.
The SoS in agreeing with the inspector found that Fylde Borough only had a 1.4 year housing supply, the core strategy would not be in place before 2014 (from my database it is the slowest in the country) and this was the only practical site to meet housing need. So the approval was not surprising. What is interesting though is that the site is Green Belt and Pickles had previously refused on prematurity grounds (which was quashed) and so the way the case is argued and issues balenced is of particular interest.
Key to the understanding of the site was how the scheme would help deliver a M55 link road supported by the County. The appeal for this was conjoined following a direction preventing them approving it without SoS approval. Also a previous SoS approval decision had been quashed in the courts (for 350 dwellings on part of the site only). Pickles had previously refused that scheme on prematurity grounds. This decision was quashed following the CALA case as the SoS had given little weight to the RSS.
The local council opposed the proposal on grounds of poor connectivity to the town, prematurity and inappropriate development in the Green Belt.
The key findings were
the Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector (IR413) that reliance on (protection of countryside) policy to prevent the appeal proposal would thwart the national policy requirements that, where possible, applications should be approved where plans are out-of-date and that local planning authorities should consider favourably applications for housing where they are unable to demonstrate an up-to-date five year supply of deliverable sites. These requisites have recently been reinforced in the NPPF, and the Secretary of State therefore gives little weight to the fact that the appeal site is not allocated for housing in the LP – especially having regard to the agreement between the appellants …that there is currently only a 1.4 year supply of housing land in the Borough against RS requirements.
the Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector’s conclusion…that the appeal scheme should not be refused on prematurity grounds. In particular, the Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector (IR419) that, as it is likely to be at least the end of 2014 before the Core Strategy could be produced, FBC’s future intentions at this stage can be no more than speculation with no evidence that St Annes would not continue to be the principal focus for housing development in the future. He also agrees with the
Inspector that, while permitting the appeal scheme would pre-empt decisions on revised settlement boundaries and on the release of agricultural land, these need to be balanced against the ability of the appeal scheme to secure the implementation of the Link Road, the fact that Queensway is the onlylocation where major housing for St Annes could be accommodated and the fact that there is no substantive objection to the appeal scheme on the basis of impact on character and appearance.
the Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector’s conclusion ..that, although greater connectivity would have been desirable and the shortfall is a negative to weigh in the overall balance, it is not so serious as to be an overriding objection to the appeal scheme.
the Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector that the Queensway scheme provides – through the commitment to funding in the Unilateral Undertaking (UU) – the only realistic means by which an important beneficial road scheme could realistically come to fruition in a timely manner
the Secretary of State has had regard to the guidance in the NPPF that local transport infrastructure which can demonstrate a requirement for a Green Belt location is not inappropriate in the Green Belt provided it preserves the openness of the Green Belt and does not conflict with the purpose of including land in the Green Belt. However, as the Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector both the T5 road (which forms part of the Queensway appeal scheme) and the M55 Link Road scheme would reduce the openness of the Green Belt and, in the case of T5, would reduce, to a limited degree, the separation of St Annes and Blackpool, he also agrees that both road schemes would be inappropriate GreenBelt development. He therefore further agrees with the Inspector that it is necessary to consider whether the substantial harm by reason of inappropriateness and any other harm is clearly outweighed by other considerations so as to amount to the very special circumstances necessary tojustify these road proposals….he agrees with the Inspector that the ability of the Queensway appeal scheme to fund the provision of the Link Road (whose provision would itself result in considerable planning benefits) and to make a positive contribution to housing provision are very significant and weighty considerations in favour of both schemes. He therefore agrees with the Inspector that they clearly outweigh the totality of harm of inappropriate Green Belt development together with the other harm identified, and he is satisfied that very special circumstances exist to justify the use of Green Belt land for the construction of the road schemes.
The SoS and Inspector considered that despite the inquiry taking place pre NPPF approval
He considers that, for the most part, the issues raised in relation to the NPPF cover those already rehearsed at the inquiry.
This is certainly true of Green Belt issues it would have been inappropriate development before and now is conditionally innappropriate development and the weighing and balancing of Green Belt issues would have been the same.
What does matter though is the new (formal) prematurity policy as opposed to the previous make it up as one goes alonmg policy. This new national policy has led to a different decision.
This case circumstances could not have been a worst one for arguing against this Green field site. An infmaously low LPA in terms of plan making, no alternative site and no Brownfield site alternative as a consequence. None the less the casual dismissal of the local plan policy protecting as countryside and no mention at all of the NPPF section (paper thin though it is) on protection of the intrinsic value of the countryside is shocking.
Surely the SoS should have used more considered tones about weighing and balancing of issues even if the end result would have been the same. The tone of the decision will give concern to countryside campaigners, what for example if there was a case with 3.5 years supply, a plan examination in 2012 and clear alternatives? The risk is that the weak wording of the NPPF on countryside protection will lead to cases of ‘automatic’ land release when there is no 5 year supply even in cases where there is no clear cut case this is the best site? Also an issue is how could the SoS come to a decision at all over housing issues if he had abolished the RSS in a case like this where the LP was years old and its replacement years away? One suspects that the SoS has woken up to the fact that from a housing perspective it is rather useful not to rush to revocation at bit puts pressure on LPA to draw up top date local plans.