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Imperative of Valued Landscape Protection Trumps House Building Plans

fieldsLocal authorities that do not have a five-year supply of housing land in place take the risk that planning permission will be granted for developments they consider undesirable. However, as a High Court case showed, even in such situations consent will not be forthcoming for projects that harm valued landscapes.

The case concerned a proposal to build 175 new homes on the outskirts of a market town. In the absence of a five-year supply of housing land in the area, the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) required that the so-called tilted balance be applied in favour of the development.

The site was, however, set amidst scenic hill country and formed part of the setting of an area of outstanding natural beauty. Following a public inquiry, a government planning inspector refused to grant consent for the development on the basis that it would cause moderate to substantial harm to the area’s rural character and would lead to the irrevocable loss of part of a valued landscape.

In challenging that ruling, the would-be developer argued that the inspector had failed to identify any features of the relevant site itself that could render it a valued landscape. The NPPF and the local development plan both contained landscape protection policies and it was submitted that the inspector made the mistake of double counting any harm the project might cause.

In dismissing those arguments, however, the Court noted the danger of subjecting the inspector’s decision to overly rigorous forensic examination. On a fair reading of her decision letter, she had properly applied the tilted balance and was entitled to conclude that the adverse impacts of the development would nevertheless significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits.