Will Radeltt Airfield Let St Albans off the Hook?

As ive said here before if you really want to stop the railfreight terminal allow housing on the site.  As a brownfield site the NPPF now allows it providing it meets the visual test.    So when will the City get its finger out.  If it really wanted positive planning it would hointly develop the site itself with the County Council and make it the centrepiece of its long delayed local plan.

St Albans Review

The co-owner of St Albans CityFootball Club said he would be ready to submit a planning application for a stadium and 6,000 new homes on Radlett Airfield within two weeks.

John McGowan said a major land developer, who did not want to be named, had stepped forward with up to £17 million for the scheme.

Hertfordshire County Council deferred its sale of the land to Helioslough, which was hoping to build a strategic rail freight terminal on the site, on Monday.

A St Albans county councillor has warned the Saints’ scheme, along with another proposed by prospective parliamentary candidate Kerry Pollard, may “open the door” for the rail terminal.

Liberal Democrat Sandy Walkington said: “Everyone would prefer, if the site is going to be developed, for housing to be built there rather than a freight terminal.

“But the one major argument against this strategic, national piece of infrastructure is that the site is on Green Belt.”

Mr McGowan said the football club would be ready to put in outline planning permission within the next two weeks, for 6,000 homes and a new stadium.

The club has been struggling with its aging infrastructure in Clarence Park, and earlier this week described the situation as “unviable”.

Mr McGowan said: “I spent the entire day on Tuesday with a major land developer who has stated they will support me with a joint bid to match Helioslough’s offer.

“We understand the offer is 10 times the county valuation of £1.7 million, i.e £17 million, subject to outline planning.

“I’m ready to take a step forward, I can make an application in two weeks for outline planning permission.

“I need the green light from people. I need positive people saying they can get us into meetings and help us push this through committees.”

The development would fulfil a sizable chunk of St Albans District Council’s obligation to build 12,000 new homes by 2031.

Dreda Gordon, Labour councillor for The Colneys, said: “St Albans has a target of 11,000 homes to build and the council is looking at Green Belt sites. There is a huge housing shortage and we have to provide these homes.

“St Albans City Football Club is in desperate need of a new site, and they have looked long and hard throughout the district.

“This is a Green Belt site, which needs to be taken into consideration, but if this is a solution to that problem then I would support it.”

Councillor Walkington added: “Everybody knows that at some stage housing needs to be build, young people need somewhere to live.

“The football club does need a new home, Clarence Park is very run down. It’s too small and it’s not in the right place.

“It’s in a listed park in a residential area, so it’s very difficult to see how it could be improved. I admire the ambition that the owners are bringing to the club.”

A housing development on the Radlett airfield site could raise “five or six times” more money for the county council than an unpopular rail freight development.

The decision to defer the sale of the former aerodrome was made by Hertfordshire councillors yesterday (Monday).

The St Albans Review revealed on Friday how prospective parliamentary candidate for St Albans, Kerry Pollard, planned to build houses on the site.

He said: “We are meeting with Taylor Wimpey on Tuesday to make sure they’re absolutely focussed on the way forward.

“There is only a small window to take advantage of here. Next we need to broker a meeting with the county council to start talking about the details.

“I’m really pleased we managed to put this thing together in three short weeks, the council will get five or six times what they would have received from Helioslough.

“This is the biggest result for St Albans for a number years.”

Mr Pollard said the details of the planning agreement would take a couple of years to put together.

Co-owner of the club John McGowan said he would be interested in working with a developer to build a new stadium on the site.

He said the club was initially prepared to offer £1.2 million to buy the site, which they understood to be worth £1.7 million, as reported wrongly in other local newspapers.

However, Robert Gordon, leader of the council, dismissed this figure yesterday, suggesting the land was worth “ten times that”.

Mr McGowan said: “The club is not sustainable at the moment and we have made an application to see if we can be included within the s106 agreement if at all possible.

“I’m happy to link up with a developer, whether it is housing scheme or not, it’s an ideal opportunity.

“It’s only a big maybe, we’re trying to foot in the door and it’s really difficult.”

Hunstan Defeat Costs St Albans 27K

My advice saying they would lose was free.

St Albans Gazette

St Albans District Council suffers expensive defeat in Harpenden Road Green Belt homes High Court battle

St Albans District Council today suffered an expensive defeat over its appeal against a ruling reviving plans for 116 new homes and a 72-bed care home on Green Belt land in the city.

The Court of Appeal in London backed a September High Court ruling in which Judge Pelling QC, sitting in Manchester, gave developer Hunston Properties a second chance at securing planning permission for the development on land at Harpenden Road, Sewell Park, St Albans, near St Albans Girls School.

As a result the Council has been told it must foot the legal costs of the developer and must make an interim payment of £27,500 in the next 21 days. The full amount will be assessed later, but is likely to be even higher, and comes on top of the council’s own lawyers’ bills for bringing the appeal.

As a result, the matter will have to be reconsidered by another inspector. The council had hoped to persuade the Court of Appeal to overturn the earlier decision and allow the refusal of permission to stand.

The Plan had a figure of 360 houses per year for the district but the developer claimed that there was actually a need for more than 688 new homes per year.

The council had shown available sites for 2,183 new houses and, while this would be enough to provide a five-year supply on the Plan figures, this would result in a significant shortfall based on the developer’s figures.

Judge Pelling QC had found that the inspector erred in law by failing to identify the full objectively assessed needs for housing in the area as required by the Government’s new National Planning Policy Framework.

And, upholding that decision, Sir David Keene said: “I agree with the judge below that the inspector erred by adopting such a constrained figure for housing need. It led her to find that there was no shortfall in housing land supply in the district.

“She should have concluded, using the correct policy approach, that there was such a shortfall. The supply fell below the objectively assessed five year requirement. Where this inspector went wrong was to use a quantified figure for the five year housing requirement which departed from the approach in the Framework.”

But he said that would not be the end of the matter when the application falls to be reconsidered, when the key question would be whether the shortfall provides “very special circumstances” sufficient to justify development in the Green belt.

The scale of the shortfall will have to be considered by the inspector dealing with the matter, against the particular circumstances faced by St Albans, where, the judge said “virtually all the undeveloped land in the district outside the built up areas forms part of the Metropolitan Green Belt”.

Court of Appeal Finds #NPPF Ambiguous and Unclear

As we always said.  Sir David Keene in the Hunstan Judgement

The Framework was published by the Government in order to set out its planning policies for England, so as to give guidance to local planning authorities and other decisions-makers in the planning system.  It was seen by the Minister for Planning as simplifying national planning guidance “by replacing over a thousand pages of national policy with around fifty, written simply and clearly.”  Unhappily, as this case demonstrates, the process of simplification has in certain instances led to a diminution in clarity.  It will be necessary to set out the wording of paragraph 47 of the Framework very soon in this judgment.  I have to say that I have not found arriving at “a definitive answer” to the interpretative problem an easy task, because of ambiguity in the drafting.  

St Albans Loses Hunston Green Belt Case – But Won’t Make a Difference

I was sent the decision which the Court of Appeal handed down this morning.  Ive put it on Dropbox.   All Green Belt authorities have been eagerly awaiting the result as it implied that plans which relied on RSS housing targets, as many GB authorities do, were rendered out of date and objectively assessed need could be considered a ‘very special circumstance’.

In essence the Court held the inspector made a mistake in using revoked RSS figures.  This alone would lead to JR.   St Albans argument that one also had to have regard to constraints and the NPPF as a whole was rejected for the reasons we originally set out on this blog as the reason their case was flawed.  The setting of objectively assessed need is separate from and prior to plan making and the qualifications on NPPF para 47(1_.

“to ensure that their Local Plan meets the full, objectively assessed needs for market and affordable housing in the housing market area, as far as is consistent with the policies set out in this Framework.”

Were found by the judgement

That qualification contained in the last clause quoted is not qualifying housing needs.  It is qualifying the extent to which the Local Plan should go to meet those needs.  The needs assessment, objectively arrived at, is not affected in advance of the production of the Local Plan, which will then set the requirement figure….

Moreover, I accept Mr Stinchcombe QC’s submissions for Hunston that it is not for an inspector on a Section 78 appeal to seek to carry out some sort of local plan process as part of determining the appeal, so as to arrive at a constrained housing requirement figure.  An inspector in that situation is not in a position to carry out such an exercise in a proper fashion, since it is impossible for any rounded assessment similar to the local plan process to be done.  That process is an elaborate one involving many parties who are not present at or involved in the Section 78 appeal. …

     It follows from this that I agree with the judge below that the inspector erred by adopting such a constrained figure for housing need.  It led her to find that there was no shortfall in housing land supply in the district.  She should have concluded, using the correct policy approach, that there was such a shortfall.  The supply fell below the objectively assessed five year requirement.

It was a pyrrhic victory however as the courts comments implied that the balancing exercise would rarely find the ‘very special circumstances’ test met.  

However, that is not the end of the matter.  The crucial question for an inspector in such a case is not: is there a shortfall in housing land supply? It is: have very special circumstances been demonstrated to outweigh the Green Belt objection?  …

But there may be other factors as well.  One of those is the planning context in which that shortfall is to be seen.  The context may be that the district in question is subject on a considerable scale to policies protecting much or most of the undeveloped land from development except in exceptional or very special circumstances, whether because such land is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, National Park or Green Belt.  If that is the case, then it may be wholly unsurprising that there is not a five year supply of housing land when measured simply against the unvarnished figures of household projections.  A decision-maker would then be entitled to conclude, if such were the planning judgment, that some degree of shortfall in housing land supply, as measured simply by household formation rates, was inevitable.  That may well affect the weight to be attached to the shortfall….I therefore reject Mr Stinchcombe’s submission that it is impossible for an inspector to take into account the fact that such broader, district-wide constraints exist….

There seemed to be some suggestion by Hunston in the course of argument that a local planning authority, which did not produce a local plan as rapidly as it should, would only have itself to blame if the objectively-assessed housing need figures produced a shortfall and led to permission being granted on protected land, such as Green Belt, when that would not have happened if there had been a new-style local plan in existence.  That is not a proper approach.  Planning decisions are ones to be arrived at in the public interest, balancing all the relevant factors and are not to be used as some form of sanction on local councils.  It is the community which may suffer from a bad decision, not just the local council or its officers.

Where this inspector went wrong was to use a quantified figure for the five year housing requirement which departed from the approach in the Framework, especially paragraph 47.  On the figures before her, she was obliged (in the absence of a local plan figure) to find that there was a shortfall in housing land supply.  However, decision-makers in her position, faced with their difficult task, have to determine whether very special circumstances have been shown which outweigh the contribution of the site in question to the purposes of the Green Belt.  The ultimate decision may well turn on a number of factors, as I have indicated, including the scale of the shortfall but also the context in which that shortfall is to be seen, a context which may include the extent of important planning constraints in the district as a whole.  There may be nothing special, and certainly nothing “very special” about a shortfall in a district which has very little undeveloped land outside the Green Belt.  But ultimately that is a matter of planning judgment for the decision-maker.

Perhaps Hunstan now are regretting the appeal.

Interesting that the Court indicated you cannot approach planning decisions as if they are some form of penalty on poor performers.  Of course the NPPF was designed precisely as such a penalty system, interestingly this underlying objective is not material to the planning balance.