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Sustainability ‘Not a Trump Card’ in Planning Terms

In a unique decision which underlined that sustainability is ‘not a trump card’ that can outweigh all other planning considerations, the High Court has dashed a self-styled eco-technologist’s hopes of building three ‘experimental’ homes in rural Kent.

Stephen Scrivens argued that planners were selling out future generations and that, far from being blots on the rural landscape, his plans for three innovative homes near Ashford would be a crucial step forward in attaining true energy efficiency.

However, Ashford Borough Council and two planning inspectors disagreed with him and, in dismissing his appeal, the Court found that, even in a world threatened by climate change, the benefits of energy-saving proposals could be outweighed by the need to preserve the intrinsic character and beauty of the countryside.

Expressing sympathy for Mr Scrivens’ views, the Court detected ‘some merit’ in his complaint that low-energy homes have to be built in open areas if they are to have access to the wind and sunlight they need to power them.

However, the Court ruled, “Energy considerations do not constitute a trump card whatever may be considered to be the harm of the proposed developments. Future generations will be adversely affected by developments which damage the countryside.

“Thus the energy credentials of a development will not by themselves justify the grant of planning permission. Equally, sustainable development does not give a green light to greenfield developments without considering their effect on the countryside generally and nearby communities in particular.”

Mr Scrivens lectures widely on planning issues and the benefits of ‘autarkic’ homes which rely almost entirely on sustainable energy sources. He argued that architects, builders and planners had failed to keep pace with the need to fight climate change and that the council and inspectors should have applied a presumption in favour of sustainable development.

However, the Court ruled, “While the future exhaustion of energy services is very important, there has to be consideration given to the needs of the present as well as the future. Thus, for example, a development which, however autarkic, is entirely out of place or would adversely affect in economic terms a neighbouring community could properly be refused. Furthermore, an unsightly development in the countryside could also adversely affect future generations.”

Planners had been well aware that Mr Scrivens’ proposals would provide renewable energy and would support the transition to a low-carbon future, but had rejected them as potentially harmful to the countryside’s character and appearance. One of the homes Mr Scrivens proposed had been described by an inspector as ‘a large utilitarian structure that bore no resemblance to its context’.