Courts Clarify what is ‘isolated’ under #NPPF

Ballilaw  Braintree and SOS v Granville

    1. The Claimant submitted that NPPF 55 had to be interpreted in the context of national policy on rural development which enjoined decision takers to support the rural economy by supporting local services and facilities within it: see NPPF 28 and 55, and the PPG. According to the PPG, housing had an “essential” role to play in ensuring the vitality of those facilities and services. Housing should therefore be located where it would “enhance or maintain” them. Housing which did not enhance or maintain those facilities or services by reason of being “isolated” from them should be avoided unless there are “special circumstances”. Thus, in applying NPPF 55, and considering whether proposed development amounted to “new isolated homes in the countryside”, it was irrelevant that the development was located proximate to other residential dwellings. The key question was whether it was proximate to services and facilities so as to maintain or enhance the vitality of the rural community.

    2. In my judgment, the Claimant’s submission was incorrect. The sentence in NPPF 55 guiding local authorities to avoid granting planning permission for “new isolated homes in the countryside unless there are special circumstances” should be “interpreted objectively in accordance with the language used, read … in its proper context” (per Lord Reed in Tesco Homes at [18]).

    3. The word “isolated” is not defined in the NPPF. I agree with the Defendants’ submission that “isolated” should be given its ordinary objective meaning of “far away from other places, buildings or people; remote” (Oxford Concise English Dictionary).

    4. The immediate context is the distinction in NPPF 55 between “rural communities”, “settlements” and “villages” on the one hand, and “the countryside” on the other. This suggests that “isolated homes in the countryside” are not in communities and settlements and so the distinction between the two is primarily spatial/physical.

    5. As to the broader context, in my judgment, NPPF 55 seeks to promote the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development, and to strike a balance between the core planning principles of “recognising the intrinsic character and beauty of the countryside” and “supporting thriving rural communities within it” (NPPF 17). The Claimant’s analysis of the policy context is far too narrow in scope.

    6. The policy in favour of locating housing where it will “enhance or maintain the vitality of rural communities” is not limited to economic benefits. The word “vitality” is broad in scope and includes the social role of sustainable development, described in NPPF 7 as “supporting strong, vibrant and healthy communities, by providing the supply of housing required to meet the needs of present and future generations”. The Claimant’s restriction of an “isolated home” to one that is isolated from services and facilities would deny policy support to a rural home that could contribute to social sustainability because of its proximity to other homes.

    7. NPPF 55 cannot be read as a policy against development in settlements without facilities and services since it expressly recognises that development in a small village may enhance and maintain services in a neighbouring village, as people travel to use them. The PPG advises that “all settlements can play a role in delivering sustainable development in rural areas”, cross-referencing to NPPF 55, “and so blanket policies restricting housing development in some settlements and preventing other settlements from expanding should be avoided….”. Moreover, in rural areas, where public transport is limited, people may have to travel by car to a village or town to access services. NPPF 17 penultimate bullet point identifies as a core planning principle to “actively manage patterns of growth to make the fullest possible use of public transport, walking and cycling, and focus significant development in locations which are or can be made sustainable”. But as the PPG states, NPPF 29 and 34 recognise that the general policy in favour of locating development where travel is minimised, and use of public transport is maximised, has to be sufficiently flexible to take account of the differences between urban and rural areas. The scale of the proposed development may also be a relevant factor when considering transport and accessibility. As Mr Dagg rightly pointed out, the policy in NPPF 17 in favour of focusing development in locations which are or can be made sustainable applies in particular to “significant development”.

    8. For these reasons, I agree with the Defendants that the Claimant was seeking to add an impermissible gloss to NPPF 55 in order to give it a meaning not found in its wording and not justified by its context.

    9. The First Defendant drew my attention to Dartford Borough Council v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government [2017] EWCA Civ 141 in which Lewison LJ said, at [15], in relation to para. 55 of the NPPF:

“… the definition of previously developed land, in the context of the present case, takes as its starting point that the proposed development is within the curtilage of an existing permanent structure. It follows that a new dwelling within that curtilage will not be an ‘isolated’ home.”

    1. Although the context in that case was quite different, my conclusion is consistent with Lewison LJ’s observations.
    2. In AD 8 & 9, the Inspector correctly applied NPPF 55 by concluding that, since the proposed new homes would be located on a road in a village where there were a number of dwellings nearby, it would not result in “new isolated homes in the countryside”.
    3. The undisputed evidence before the Inspector was that Blackmore End was a village, which had linear development extending along several roads. There was a dispersed pattern of development along Lower Green Road (the location of the appeal site). Lower Green Road was a road leading out of the village, heading north. There were dwellings immediately to the south and north of the appeal site. There was also a dwelling to the west, on the other side of the road.
    4. It was common ground that the appeal site was to be treated as outside any village envelope, and therefore within the countryside. Until 2014, no settlement boundary existed for Blackmore End, in common with some other villages in this rural district. A settlement boundary was introduced in 2014 in the Site Allocations and Development Management Policies document, which was an interim measure whilst the new Local Plan was prepared, but it was never formally adopted as part of the development plan. In June 2016, a draft Local Plan was published for consultation, which included the same or very similar settlement boundary, but it only had the status of an emerging plan. In both documents, the settlement boundary (referred to as a “village envelope”) was drawn around the two main clusters of housing in the centre of the village, excluding development, such as Lower Green Road, located on the edge of the village. This was a material consideration for planning purposes.
    5. It was agreed that the village of Blackmore End had very limited facilities and amenities, comprising a village hall, public house and playing field. Blackmore End was within the parish of Wethersfield. Wethersfield village was about 2 miles away, and it had a post office, village store, public house, a nursery and pre-school. The village of Sible Hedingham, identified as one of five “Key Service Villages” in the draft Local Plan was about 4 miles away. In assessing accessibility, the Inspector concluded, at AD 14:

“It is likely that those occupying the dwellings would rely heavily on the private car to access everyday services, community facilities and employment. While this weighs against the development, it is consistent with the Framework that sustainable transport opportunities are likely to be more limited in rural areas.”

    1. Under the sub-heading “The Overall Balance and Sustainable Development”, the Inspector said:

“16. Accessibility to services, facilities and employment from the site other than by car would be poor. On the other hand, the development would make a modest contribution to meeting housing need. In addition, subject to appropriate conditions, there would not be material harm to the character and appearance of the surrounding area or to the setting of listed buildings. A minor economic benefit would arise from developing the site and the economic activity of those occupying the buildings. There would be conflict with policies CS5 and RLP2 but those policies are out-of-date and are worthy of limited weight. Applying the tests set out in Framework paragraph 14, I find that there are not adverse impacts of granting permission which would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits, when assessed against Framework policies as a whole. Nor are there specific policies in the Framework which indicate that the development should be restricted. The proposal would amount to sustainable development. Permission should be granted in accordance with the Framework’s presumption in favour of sustainable development.”

  1. When the Inspector referred to “the minor economic benefit … from developing the site and the economic activity of those occupying the dwellings”, he was referring, first, to the economic benefit of providing local builders etc. with work at the appeal site, and, second, to the economic benefit of two new households who would be likely to use businesses in the surrounding area (e.g. for services to their homes and shopping etc.). This was a point expressly raised in the Appellant’s case, which the Inspector was entitled to accept. In my view, it was obvious that households would be likely to use services in the surrounding area to some extent. I cannot agree with the Claimant’s submission that the Inspector made no finding on this point or that there was insufficient evidence of such use to enable him to do so.

  2. In conclusion, I consider that the Inspector correctly interpreted NPPF 55, and applied it properly to the facts and matters which arose in this appeal. Therefore the Claimant’s application is dismissed.

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One thought on “Courts Clarify what is ‘isolated’ under #NPPF

  1. Quite shocking that it has taken 5 years for this matter to finally be clarified. Hard to see why a commonsense definition of ‘isolation’ was not included in the NPPF when it was published. In the meantime, LPAs with repressive plans that pre-dated the NPPF have simply asserted that rural locations that are not blessed with necessary facilities and services are inherently ‘isolated’. This suited them splendidly as most of those pre-NPPF plans were drawn up to comply with now revoked RSSs, most of which espoused distinctly non-NPPF-compliant spatial strategies (especially where rural areas were concerned). One can only hope that the immininent changes to the NPPF will finally put matters right by adopting the definition of ‘isolation’ as laid out in Braintree and SoS vs Granville. Better late than never…

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