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High Court judge dismisses challenge to Buckinghamshire neighbourhood plan

A High Court judge has dismissed developer Gladman Developments' (GD) challenge to the adoption of a neighbourhood plan for the market town of Winslow in Buckinghamshire.19 Dec 2014

Aylesbury Vale District Council adopted, or 'made' the Winslow neighbourhood plan (WNP) in September, after 98% of local people participating in a local referendum voted that the plan should be used to help decide planning applications in the area. The WNP designated a settlement boundary, outside which proposals for housing development should only be granted in exceptional circumstances, and allocated five sites to deliver up to 455 homes by 2031.

GD had promoted three sites for housing development in the neighbourhood plan, none of which were eventually chosen by the plan-makers for allocation. All of the sites were outside the settlement boundary that appeared in the adopted plan.

The developer made a claim for a judicial review of the Council's decision to make the WNP. GD argued that the inspector who examined the WNP and recommended it for referendum had made a series of mistakes and that it had been unlawful to proceed to referendum and to make the plan.

The developer claimed that it was not permissible for the neighbourhood plan to set a settlement boundary or to allocate sites for housing because these were strategic matters that should be dealt with in development plans and no development plan was in place in the area.

High Court judge Mr Justice Lewis rejected this argument. "In my judgment, a neighbourhood plan may include policies dealing with the use and development of land for housing, including policies dealing with the location of a proposed number of new dwellings, even where there is at present no development plan document setting out strategic policies for housing," said the judge.

Mr Justice Lewis also rejected GD's claims that the examiner had failed to consider national policy when assessing the adequacy of the site allocations in the WNP. While additional guidance had been released between the preparation of the plan and its examination, the judge found that the examiner himself had "had regard to relevant national policy and guidelines" in considering whether the allocations were appropriate and deliverable.

Contrary to the developer's further claims, Mr Justice Lewis also found that the examiner had been entitled to conclude that an environmental report prepared alongside the WNP satisfied the requirements of European Union law and had given "adequate, intelligible reasons for his recommendations".

"In summary ... the examiner was entitled to recommend that the draft neighbourhood plan should proceed to referendum," concluded the judge. "The Council was entitled to make the neighbourhood plan in the light of the vote in favour of the neighbourhood plan at that referendum. Consequently, the WNP is lawful. This claim for judicial review is therefore dismissed."