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High Court backs SoS approval of 1,000 Gloucestershire homes

Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (SoS) Eric Pickles' decision to grant planning permission to two major housing developments near Bishop's Cleeve in Gloucestershire was lawful, a High Court judge has ruled.21 Feb 2013

The judge rejected a claim by Tewkesbury Borough Council that the Localism Act 2011 had brought about a fundamental change in the approach to planning applications so that much greater weight must now be given to the views of the local planning authority.

The two development proposals, one by Comparo Ltd. for the development of 450 homes at Homelands Farm, and one by Welbeck Strategic Land to build 550 homes at a site known as Cleevelands, were granted permission by Pickles last July after the Council had failed to determine the applications within the prescribed time limit.

Pickles said in his decision letter that the developments were necessary "now" to meet the Council's "immediate housing need". He said that the most significant material consideration was the National Planning Policy Framework requirement for a Council to demonstrate a five year housing land supply, which Tewkesbury Council was not able to do and "for which there was a pressing need".

Pickles said that other than allowing the appeals there was "no other credible way" of reducing the housing supply shortfall.

The judge said that the decision by the SoS was a "legitimate exercise of planning judgment" and that his conclusions were the result of applying "well established principles and policies".

The Council argued that the SoS had ignored the fact that the Localism Act had introduced a "fundamental requirement" for the Council to "be in the driving seat of spatial planning for its area, including housing land provision".

It said that the Act had brought about a "sea change in the proper approach to planning decisions which require much greater priority than hitherto to be given to the views of local planning authorities."

The judge dismissed this argument, saying that the Act contains nothing which could be regarded as enacting "such a radical change". "In my judgment it is inconceivable that any such change was intended to be brought about by the policy statements which accompanied the Act."

He said that, in particular, the policies relating to a five year housing land supply and the principle of prematurity were expressly reaffirmed in the NPPF.

"I would accept that the Localism Act 2011 made significant changes to the planning system, but I would not accept that the effect of those changes was to eliminate the role of the Secretary of State in determining planning applications opposed by local planning authorities or to abolish long-standing principles and policies such as the need for a five year housing land supply or the principle of prematurity as the means of resolving the tension between individual planning applications and the more extended timescale needed for the formulation and adoption of local development plans," the judge said.

Tewkesbury Borough Council leader Robert Vines said in a statement that the Council was disappointed with the outcome.

"What is clear is that the Localism Act has not delivered what was expected and suggested by the government when it was introduced, which was to remove top-down planning and to transfer power to communities," he said.

"The judge acknowledged that this is not the first time that more has been claimed for a reform of the law than has actually been delivered. While the Localism Act has made significant changes to the planning system, including giving local communities more say over the scale, location and timing of developments in their areas, the judge considered that this greater say will depend on the preparation of local plans," Vines said.

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