The existence of emerging neighbourhood plans has proved a key factor in the fate of four recovered housing appeals determined by the Communities Secretary Eric Pickles.
Three involved the same local planning authority, Mid Sussex District Council, and the same neighbourhood plan, drawn up by Hurstpierpoint & Sayers Parish Council. One involved Wiltshire Council and the Malmesbury Neighbourhood Plan.
The three Mid-Sussex schemes, each refused by the local planning authority, involved plans by Thakenham Homes for an 81-home development at College Lane, Hurstpierpoint; a proposal by Rydon Homes for 157 homes and 50 acres of informal parkland also at Hurstpierpoint and a housing-led, mixed-use scheme at Sayers Common involving 120 homes, a care home, retail units and offices proposed by Woodcock Holdings.
All these three cases were the subject of separate public inquiries chaired by the same planning inspector who recommended the latter case should be allowed, a stance the Secretary of State disagreed with.
However, he agreed with the recommendations of the inspector in respect of the Hurstpierpoint schemes, one of which – proposed by Rydon Homes – was allowed.
These proposals were allowed as the land involved had been identified for housing in the emerging neighbourhood plan (NP).
The Secretary of State’s decision letter said that “as the council has yet to complete an up-to-date objectively assessed housing needs analysis against which to measure the overall neighbourhood plan proposals, he considers it appropriate, as things currently stand, to tip the planning balance in favour of the emerging neighbourhood plan proposals”.
In the case of Thakenham Homes and the Woodcock Holdings schemes the SoS‘s decision letters made it clear that the fact the emerging neighbourhood plan had identified housing allocations elsewhere had tipped the planning balance.
The fourth case involved plans from developer White Lion Land for a 77-home scheme, together public open space and a community building, at Malmesbury, Wiltshire. The inspector who held the recovered appeal had recommended it should be allowed.
Pickles disagreed. His decision letter pointed out that the appeal site was towards the bottom of the list of 25 sites for housing during the neighbourhood plan assessment. The neighbourhood plan is due to be examined later this month.
Pickles said that in these circumstances “the immediate benefits of releasing the appeal site as a contribution to meeting overall housing demand in the wider area are insufficient to justify the release of this site so soon before the examination of the neighbourhood plan proposals”.
If a neighbourhood plan is advanced and the proposal is large this can tip the planning balance against a proposal, however as para 14 of the NPPF stands if there is not an objective assessment of need this should tip teh planning balance in favour of the scheme, after all there is a presumption in favour of development. How is an emerging neighbourhood plan different from an merging local plan? What is the incentive to get on and produce an objective assessmeny of need? Another prematurity legal challenge coming on I fear.