The High Court has today found a policy in the St Ives Neighbourhood Plan which prohibits new dwellings being used as holiday homes to be lawful. The St Ives Neighbourhood Plan will be the first in the UK to require new residential dwellings to be occupied as a person’s “principal residence”, a measure designed to decrease the proportion of holiday homes in St Ives. Mark Lowe QC and Jack Parker successfully defended the making of the Plan on behalf of Cornwall Council.
The judgment will no doubt pave the way for the promoters of other Neighbourhood Plans to include similar restrictions where there is evidence that the second homes market is having a detrimental impact on the sustainability of towns and villages.
In RLT Built Environment Ltd v Cornwall Council  EWHC 2817 (Admin), heard before Mr Justice (now Lord Justice) Hickinbottom, the Claimant, a private developer, sought to challenge the making of the St Ives Neighbourhood Plan on the basis that there had been inadequate consideration of reasonable alternatives to the Plan’s policies, contrary to the SEA Directive, and that the “principal residence requirement” would amount to an unjustified interference with the Article 8 ECHR right to a home which would be enjoyed by future occupiers of dwellings subject to the restriction.
In relation to the SEA Directive, the Claimant argued that increasing the amount of available market housing for local people to buy was a “reasonable alternative” to the principal residence requirement and should have been assessed. The Court, noting that the SEA Directive did not require the assessment of “obvious non-starters”, rejected that suggestion because the objective of the policy was not merely to make more housing available to local people but rather to reduce the proportion of second homes in St Ives.
As for Article 8, although it was theoretically possible to envisage circumstances in which the Article 8 rights of a future occupier of a dwelling subject to the principal residence might be interfered with (for example, if an unforeseen change of circumstances required an occupier to move away from St Ives), this did not mean that the policies themselves breached (or arguably even engaged) Article 8 ECHR. Any interference with the Article 8 rights of an occupier would be in pursuit of a legitimate public interest, namely the interests of the economic well-being of the country and for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others and the policy was sufficiently precise to enable those purchasing dwellings subject to the principal residence requirement to know where they stood. The planning regime as a whole (including in particular the need for the Council to consider whether it would be expedient to take enforcement action and the possibility of an appeal against any enforcement notice) was sufficient to safeguard the Article 8 rights of any future occupiers.