Construction research organisation the Building Research Establishment (BRE) applied to St Albans City and District Council in February 2013 for outline permission to demolish existing buildings in the north east area of its Watford campus, and replace them with 100 new homes. The Council refused the application, deciding that the proposed development was "unsustainable" due to its location, its accessibility and its impact on local infrastructure. BRE appealed against the decision and the appeal was recovered for determination by the SoS due to the proposed development's location within the green belt.
Following an inquiry in April, planning inspector Frances Mahoney recommended that the appeal be allowed and planning permission granted subject to conditions. Agreeing with the inspector, Pickles noted in his decision letter that the site was previously developed and said that the proposal was not inappropriate development and was not harmful to the green belt.
Pickles noted that the Council was unable to identify a deliverable five year supply of housing land and that there was "an acute need for housing (including affordable housing) within the district". Considering that local housing policies were out-of-date, the SoS concluded that "the contribution of the development of the appeal site to the identified housing need in the district ... is a persuasive and weighty factor in the consideration of the appeal".
While the distance from the development to the nearest train station and the limited local bus services "weigh[ed] against the proposal", Pickles decided that this caused only "limited harm" and that "the new residents of the homes would have a real choice about how they travel". Allowing the appeal, the SoS concluded that the proposed development was sustainable and that "the adverse impacts of the scheme would not significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits".
The then SoS refused an earlier application for 50 homes at the same site in 2001. The 2001 decision was taken at a time when there was an oversupply of housing in the district, and the proposed density of dwellings had been below the guidance set out in the Planning Policy Guidance.
The Council, or any other interested party, has six weeks to challenge the decision in the High Court.