A slightly bizarre recovered appeal decision relating to a lack of a 5 year supply in Thundersley Essex. One of the first to test Green Belt policy where there is lack of a 5 year supply post NPPF. The SoS has been very willing to grant housing on numerous appeals post NPPF in this situation, even in AOMB, but this as far as I know is the first to test it for a Green Belt site.
This site has history, in 2011 Castlepoint withdrew their Core strategy after an inspector said it would be found unsound on grounds of lack of housing. Castlepoint were furious. They lobbied Pickles directly stating that this breached his pre-election promise that the Green Belt was ‘inviolate’. They for a long while refused even to prepare a new plan simply withdrawing the submitted one. This changed however following the NPPF and in December 2012 they agreed a 5 year housing target and some early release sites which they felt would give them a 5 year supply.
Now lets look at the decision because its rather important.
On Green Belt purposes overall the Inspector and SoS considered the site would cause ‘moderate harm’ to Green Belt purposes.
national policy is very clear that amendments to the GB should be undertaken as part of the Local Plan process and that the Council, in this instance, are following the appropriate processes, albeit that he accords limited weight to the emerging Local Plan in this appeal case.
On plan progress
[the SoS] does not agree with the Inspector’s comment at IR339 that the current programme for adoption looks somewhat optimistic, especially in the light of the Council’s experience with the now aborted Core Strategy (CS). In the Secretary of State’s view, whilst the now withdrawn CS was in preparation, there were no real drivers to ensure that the Council pressed ahead. With the publication of the NPPF, he is more positive than the Inspector that the Council can achieve its’ programme for LP adoption, especially given the drivers within it. The Secretary of State does not disagree that, apart from its GB status, the present appeal site has no overriding constraints (IR340).
Although one might wonder for a Green Belt authority what those drivers and incentives are there appear to be none.
the Secretary of State has identified moderate harm in respect of urban sprawl, moderate harm in respect of the merging of neighbouring settlements, and moderate harm to the visual appearance of this part of the GB. The Secretary of State considers that together this represents a considerable level of harm. In accordance with the NPPF, the Secretary of State attaches substantial weight to this harm to the GB.
One might question the logic of additionality here – surely moderate harm to three Green Belt Purposes add up to moderate harm to the Green Belt overall not ‘considerable’ harm?
The key passage is as follows
the Secretary of State also observes that Council’s letter of 11 December 2012 to the Planning Inspectorate (document CP-ID1) indicates that in respect of the Catherine Road, Benfleet, 396 to 408 London Road, Benfleet, and Castle View School sites, work to make amendments to the GB boundary will be taken forward through the LP process. The Secretary of State has taken into account that the Council has acknowledged that there is a need to take land from the GB, even for the lower level of housing provision that it currently proposes (IR360). However he also gives weight to the Council’s case that those ‘strategic sites’ agreed to by the Council in December 2012 that are in the GB were preferred to the appeal site for sound planning reasons (IR91) and he considers that this diminishes the weight that can be attached to the acknowledged need to take land from the GB as a factor in favour of allowing this appeal….
wishes to emphasise that national policy is very clear that GB reviews should be undertaken as part of the Local Plan process. In light of all material considerations in this case the Secretary of State is concerned that a decision to allow this appeal for housing in the GB risks setting an undesirable precedent for similar developments which would seriously undermine national GB policy.
Of course Pickles pre NPPF was JRd on a number of sites for applying a prematurity rule – in favour of local plan reviews- stringer than in national policy.
On a number of appeals subsequently the SoS has refused to give prematurity any weight.
In another Essexd case at Harlow the SoS agreed with an inspector who said
Waiting for the emergence of the LP would not accord with national policy.
However this was a special case because for Green Belt national policy is very clear that Green Belt boundaries should only be changed through plan reviews.
The decision letter makes it clear that had it not been Green Belt it would have been approved. Also for Green Belt you have to consider alternative sites, and though not yet in a local plan the LPA had indicated that they would be favorable to such sites. Perhaps Castlepoint did just enough through publishing this list, if they had not done then the SoS would have been left in a very difficult position as a refusal could have given the signal that it is acceptable for Green Belt authorities to drag their heels on plans forever.
So overall a correct decision and no inconsitency in thsi case from Pickles.
However Pickles may have placed excessive hope on Catselpoints cllrs ability to produce a sound plan. From the Canvey Green Belt Campaign
The tone of the Mainland Councillors meeting with the Officers appears to demonstrate that they are prepared to again dig their heels in against committing to Green Belt development in their own wards.
So I guess the developers will simply bide their time wait six months for members to committ hari kiri over their draft revised plan and appeal again with every sign of success. I guess the cllrs will in that case simply blame Pickles but of course the residents will only have the cllrs to blame.
Two points of note for policy wonks. Firstly like in a number of recent appeals the Inspector based the 5 year supply on the RSS. He had nothing else to go on. Secondly in terms of a ‘backlog’ of need (as opposed to the+20%) he adopted the ‘Sedgefield method’ and spread this over the 5 years rather than a longer period.
As the appellents stated and the Inspector and SoS accepted
the residual method does not fully reflect the urgency of the need to catch up with the backlog. Their preference would be to adopt the so-called ‘Sedgefield’ method, in which the catching-up is required to be completed in the first five years. This approach has been accepted in recent appeal decisions at Honeybourne (in Wychavon DC) and Shottery (Stratfordon-Avon DC)