We picked up the planning story of the year , and biggest planning policy U turn since Patrick Jenkin — Boles pitting a halt to strategic Green Belt reviews following pressure from Chrispen Blunt MP – a week late because I was so busy (in UAE) that I did not pick up my emails tipping me off. Even then Planning in its usual way did not publish the story until after we did!
I apologise for not giving this story the attention and analysis it deserves, the background, the politics, the history, whether or not the entire planning inspectorate has been getting it wrong (no), if it has what it says about the clarity and coherence of the NPPF (if it is so easy for the wjole of PINS to ‘misinterpret’, sorry get right and then ministers paniced, what does it say?), whether it is a U turn (yes), whether the implications of the NPPF that without growth being diverted to growth areas major growth would have to be taken in the metropolitan Green Belt was a policy that could be politically sustained (no as we have said for three years). whether or not some Green Belt reviews in suitable and sustainable locations like Reigate is still necessary (yes) and now with the Duty to Cooperate recast as the Political Duty to Obstruct in Green Belt areas, does the government now plan to meet housing need in full the main policy of the NPPF (no, its a Gideon political calculation, they cant anyway before the next election – so they can score some points on the ‘duty to expand’ and reverse the policy after the election and/or announce a slew of Garden Cities to take the displaced need).
So what will R&B do – they are due to adopt on the 10th April. Under the regs they have little alternative. What they might do is what Coventry (ridiculously and subsequently indefensibly) did a couple of years ago and adopt and then withdraw the plan by another motion at the same meeting (how Alice in Wonderland planning has become under the Con-Dems).
They may find themselves injuncted on = the principle has been set on pre-meeting injunctions in Basingstoke and Deane.
Straight forward following the Cala Homes decision on the SEP. Withdrawing a plan has the same SEA implications as adopting one. Under the DTC and the NPPF that housing need will be displaced to adjoining LPAs, and if they are mainly Green Belt LPAs too to the next tier out. So to where – eerrr Mid Sussex which is now supposed to take everyone’s overspill need. They and there local MP will now surely enact their revenge on Boles and Gideon. Similar cases in the past have not been JRd, but that was before the DTC, before the NPPF, and before the gold guidance makes clear a draft plan is a material consideration and therefore falls under the SEA directive in terms of guiding ‘development consents’. The defense would be that the inspector has already seen the environment report and it has been consulted on. The problem of course is that related and backs up the plan R&B no longer wish to defend. At the very least they would have to give very clear reasons why they are rejecting the findings of their own environmental report. Other authorities and developers will argue this is effectively issues a new environmental report and that they have a duty to consult on it. R&B are between a rock and a hard place here, the more they justify the decision in common law terms the easier it becomes to challenge in European law terms. Messy. In may ways R&B being about to adopt was the worst possible case for Boles to stake a stand on. Bath, York etc. etc. could withdraw their submitted plans too but again it could be argued that this has Cala implications.
As ever it is unclear if DCLG thought this through and took legal advice. Probably. The pressure was on at the Westminster Hall debates two months ago which would have made the PM sit up and take notice. The Reigate adoption would have set a deadline and about that time to think through the implications. Have DCLG war-gamed the potential outcomes, no they are not very good at that. The fingerprints are there notably in the gold guidance using the same language used by the judge in the Hunstan case. My guess too is that the advice would have been that this is a high risk strategy and ministers didnt care – as , cynically, as lomg as they could blame judges, labour, pins, their own officials, anyone but themselves.