Developer Mactaggart and Mickel applied to Wiltshire Council in January 2013 for outline permission to build 350 homes and a local centre with 700 square metres of shops on 20 hectares of farmland to the north east of Devizes. The proposal represented development beyond the development boundary for Devizes as defined in retained policies from the Kennet District Local Plan (KDLP) and in the emerging Wiltshire Core Strategy (WCS). The site was also not allocated for development in the emerging Devizes Area Neighbourhood Plan (DANP).
The Council refused the application and the developer's appeal was recovered by the SoS for determination, due to the extent of development proposed.
In his report to the SoS, planning inspector John Felgate had recommended that the appeal be allowed and permission granted, after concluding that "the conflict with the development plan and emerging neighbourhood plan is outweighed by other material considerations, including the need for more deliverable housing land, to restore a five year supply". In coming to his conclusion, the inspector gave "limited weight" to the conflict of the proposals with the DANP, which he said "has yet to be tested for its robustness and compliance with other relevant policies".
A decision letter (68-page / 541 KB PDF) on behalf of the SoS said that Pickles agreed with the inspector that the housing policies in the KDLP should not be considered up-to-date in light of the Council's inability to demonstrate a five year supply of deliverable housing land. He also agreed that the proposal represented sustainable development that would help meet the outstanding housing requirement, and that the submission draft of the WCS was likely to require that the settlement boundaries be reviewed.
However, the letter said Pickles found that "it would be inappropriate to permit the release of the site at this time, given the stage of preparation of the DANP". Since the planning inspector had made his recommendation, the DANP had been submitted to the Council for examination. The letter noted that "once a neighbourhood plan has been submitted formally to the local authority for examination, it (and its policies) represent a material consideration to which weight can be given".
The SoS, therefore, gave "substantial weight to the proposal's non-conformity with the current draft DANP", taking into consideration "the evidence of local support for the DANP ... the fact that the appeal site came second to bottom in the site preference exercise ... the lack of any significant unresolved objections to relevant policies in the DANP ... and the fact that the non-allocation of the appeal site in the DANP is not in itself inconsistent with the [National Planning Policy] Framework".
Dismissing the appeal and refusing permission for the proposal, the letter said that "in the particular circumstances of this case, [the SoS] does not consider that the benefits of the scheme significantly or demonstrably outweigh its adverse impacts, particularly as a result of the conflicts with the emerging DANP strategy".
The decision follows four appeals in September in which Pickles also made his decision in line with housing allocations in the respective emerging neighbourhood plans.
The Council, or any other interested party, has six weeks to challenge the decision in the High Court.