Latest appeal decisions demonstrate that, even for LPA’s with adopted or emerging local plans, it will be harder to assert their primacy in the face of the presumption in favour of sustainable development. Mr Pickles is no longer inclined to reject applications on the grounds that approval would interfere with preparation of a local plan. Plan preparation is not a justifiable excuse for not having a five-year supply of housing land. This is evidenced in his approval of two unallocated sites comprising 1000 dwellings at Bishop’s Cleeve Gloucestershire. At the same time he approved 350 dwellings at Worsley, Salford. Although the site did not accord with Salford’s 2006 development plan this was outweighed by lack of a five-year land supply. In Cheshire an application for 150 dwellings on the edge of a village was approved. The Council accepted that it had a land supply of less than three years but in its emerging Core Strategy the village was included in a rural area judged suitable for only limited new development. Its claim that allowing the appeal would set an undesirable precedent and pre-empt future decisions on the scale and location of housing was rejected. 1150 homes on unallocated Greenfield land were allowed at Lytham Saint Annes given that land supply was only for 1.4 years and the draft Core Strategy was unlikely to appear before 2014. Elsewhere in Lancashire an Inspector allowed an appeal on 83 houses on Greenfield land. The Council had asserted that the appeal site would prejudice its ability to bring forward a comprehensive development of 1500 dwellings on land including the site. Moreover the scheme was premature the pending adoption of a site allocations development plan document. The Inspector noted that land supply was down to 3 years and that applications should be considered in the context of the presumption in favour of sustainable development.
A Leicestershire Council argued that a village-edge site for 111 dwellings was away from the main built-up area of Leicester and extensions to it. Another site expected to receive permission would provide an extension of 4000 dwellings. The Inspector considered that allowing the appeal would not undermine the objective of building most new houses in larger urban areas. In Wokingham 274 houses were allowed on a site give a housing land shortfall. The Secretary of State held that the proposals fulfilled an economic role by providing land to expand housing quality and choice, a social role by providing market and affordable housing to meet identifiable needs and an environmental role by providing open areas and parks.
A decision on two sites providing 1000 dwellings in Gloucestershire affords an insight into the Secretary of State’s thinking. The proposal, he said, was in a relatively sustainable location though development here would conflict with countryside policies. Lack of a five-year housing land supply was crucial, which an emerging development plan was unlikely to rectify in time. He observed that objectors might see allowing the appeals as undermining the democratic process. However, he stated that changes to the planning system giving communities more say over development in their localities carried with them the responsibility to ensure local plans were prepared expeditiously to make provision for future needs.
Until most LPA’s have up to date plans in place more and more housing appeals are going to be allowed on the basis of the presumption in favour of sustainable development and the absence of a five-year land supply in the current but increasingly outdated local plan. LPA’s need to concentrate on plan-making in order to ease their planning appeals workload in the longer term.