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Court Guidance on Approach to ‘Prematurity’ In Major Planning Cases

HouseIn giving important guidance as to the correct approach to substantial planning applications that may have an impact on the future formulation of land-use policies, the High Court has rejected claims that consent for the development of 800 new homes on the edge of a small Warwickshire village was granted prematurely.

Despite fierce local opposition, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government granted planning consent in October 2012 for the massive expansion of Shottery, a village to the west of Stratford-on-Avon which is home to several historic buildings, including Anne Hathaway’s cottage and its famed garden.

Stratford on Avon District Council had refused planning permission for the project but was overruled by the Secretary of State who ‘called in’ the proposals for his own personal determination and reached his decision on the basis of an inspector’s report following a lengthy public inquiry.

In challenging the decision, the council argued that the Secretary of State had failed to comply with national policy on the allocation of land for new housing contained within the National Planning Policy Framework. It was also submitted that the grant of consent for such a major scheme was premature in that it would pre-empt or prejudice formulation of the emerging local development plan.

However, in dismissing the appeal, the Court found that the inspector had been required to assess unmet housing need in the area and his conclusion that 11-12,000 new homes would be required in the locale over a 20-year period – rather than the 8,000 contented for by the council – was ‘unimpeachable’.

Objectors had been given ‘every opportunity’ to take part in the planning process and the inspector was entitled to conclude that the need for new housing outweighed any potential harm that the development might cause to the emerging plan. The law did not require that a ‘blanket stop’ be put on developments that might impact on the formulation of future policy and could not be used as ‘a weapon for those who wish to inhibit development in the hope that planning policy will change in the future to one which is more in line with their wishes’.

The inquiry inspector’s 650-paragraph report was commended as a model of its type by the Court which described criticisms of it levelled by the council as ‘unwarranted’.