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High Court rejects 'prematurity' challenge to 800-home Shottery approval

A Secretary of State (SoS) decision to grant planning permission for a residential development outside Stratford-upon-Avon did not prejudice the local authority's emerging local plan, a High Court judge has ruled.19 Jul 2013

Stratford on Avon District Council had rejected proposals by developers Hallam Land Management Limited and J.S. Bloor for a development comprising 800 homes, a local centre, a highway and green infrastructure at Shottery village in 2011.

However, after a public inquiry, SoS Eric Pickles last year granted planning permission on appeal for the scheme following recommendations set out in a report by a Planning Inspector.

The Council subsequently launched a challenge to that decision on grounds that the SoS had failed to comply with the National Planning Policy Framework's (NPPF) policy on housing requirements and that the decision had been premature in the light of the Council's emerging local plan.

The judge said that the Inspector had been required under the NPPF to assess the Council's unmet housing need and that his approach to determining that figure was "unimpeachable", including his conclusions that the Council's preferred figure of 8,000 was not sufficiently evidence-based.

The Inspector had "at least adequate reason", on all the evidence before him, for his assessment that the requirement for the period 2008-2028 was 11,000-12,000, the judge said.

The Council also claimed that, because the Inspector had given little weight to the Council's emerging local plan, his decision had been premature and he had failed to comply with obligations under the Aarhus Convention to enable "effective public participation" in the plan process.

However, the judge said that, in concluding that the emerging plan should be given little weight, the Inspector had taken into account factors including the fact that the plan was at an early stage, that it did not include site allocations and that there was a "significant number" of unresolved objections to the plan.

He said that the Inspector's analysis, his approach to national policy guidance on the matter, and his conclusion were "again unimpeachable as a matter of law".

"The Aarhus Convention does not require a blanket stop to be put on development that, potentially, might adversely impact on future policy; nor can it 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 judge said.

He said that the Aarhus Convention did not require anything more than what the Inspector had done. "As I have indicated, interested members of the public had every opportunity to participate in all aspects of the development plan and changes to it, and in the decision-making process for all specific decisions, including in respect of the Site."

"They had every opportunity to participate in the decision-making process that led to the Inspector determining that the weight he should give to the emerging plan was relatively little, and to his determination that other factors outweighed the potential harm to the emerging plan caused by this development," the judge said.

He concluded by noting that the Inspector's report, which ran to over 650 paragraphs, should be "commended as model".