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Court of Appeal upholds that NPPF effected “radical” change to assessment of housing need

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) “indeed effected a radical change” to the approach that should be taken by local authorities when assessing housing need, the Court of Appeal has ruled, upholding an earlier High Court decision challenging the Solihull Local Plan (SLP).17 Dec 2014

The Court of Appeal also agreed that the SLP inspector had failed to identify exceptional circumstances to justify modifying green belt boundaries.

Developers Gallagher Estates and Lioncourt Homes had successfully challenged the adopted SLP in the High Court in April, after the judge found that neither the inspector examining the SLP, nor Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council, had undertaken an objective assessment of housing need as required by the NPPF (paragraph 47) and that the incorrect approach had been taken to revising green belt boundaries.

Both developers had proposed residential developments on sites which were added to the green belt in the SLP. The Council was subsequently granted permission to appeal the High Court decision..

The Court of Appeal’s judgment, which was handed down today, confirms that when authorities are preparing their local plans for examination, a two-step approach must be undertaken. The objectively assessed housing need must first be identified, before a local authority considers whether other NPPF policies require a lower housing target to be set. This represents a change from the approach under previous planning policy, which Court of Appeal judge Lord Justice Laws said "was essentially the striking of a balance".

Planning expert Iain Gilbey of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said: “The consequences of this judgment are wide ranging. Those involved in the local plan preparation process cannot simply rely on the evidence they have prepared prior to the NPPF coming into force. Paragraph 47 NPPF requires an additional, clear assessment to be undertaken identifying a full objectively assessed housing figure.”

“Housing need is an urgent priority throughout England and the rest of the UK," said Gilbey. "The approach endorsed by this decision, in terms of the assessment of housing need that is objective, robust and utilises up to date evidence, will serve only to provide clarity to those involved with plan making and the delivery of housing."

The Court of Appeal ordered that the relevant parts of the SLP be remitted back to the Council, so that it could “reconsider the proposed SLP in light of this court’s judgment" and "cure the illegalities in their earlier preparation”.