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Pickles planning decisions show intent to protect emerging neighbourhood plans

Secretary of state for communities and local government (SoS) Eric Pickles has issued a number of decisions over the past week that demonstrate a commitment to protecting emerging neighbourhood plans from development in areas not allocated for new homes in their proposed policies.10 Sep 2014

In a decision dated 8 September (48-page / 371 KB PDF), Pickles refused planning permission for a 77-home development in Malmesbury in Wiltshire, after applying "significant weight" to the fact that the development site was not allocated for development in the emerging Malmesbury neighbourhood plan (MNP).

Although Wiltshire Council could demonstrate only a 4.1 year supply of housing, Pickles concluded that "the immediate benefits of releasing the appeal site as a contribution to meeting overall housing demand in the wider area are insufficient to justify the release of this site so soon before the examination of the neighbourhood plan proposals is complete." The MNP is due to be examined by a planning inspector in hearings starting on 18 September

Pickles' decision was at odds with the opinion of planning inspector John Wilde, who had recommended that developer White Lion Land's appeal should be upheld and permission granted.  Wilde had applied limited weight to the policies within the MNP, saying that "there is the possibility that the [site allocation] process" used "could be found not to be sound" at examination.

Concluding that the proposals were, on balance, beneficial, the inspector had noted that "the planning practice guidance makes clear that arguments that an application is premature are unlikely to justify a refusal of planning permission other than where it is clear that the adverse impacts of granting permission would significantly outweigh the benefits".

In coming to his own decision, Pickles said that he was able to apply more weight to the MNP than the inspector because the MNP process had since reached the stage of an independent examiner having been appointed to hold a hearing.

The decision follows three decisions from the SoS on 4 September, which considered the status of the emerging neighbourhood plan for Hurstpierpoint and Sayers Common (HSCNP) in Sussex, in another area without a demonstrable five year housing land supply. Like the MNP, the HSCNP has been submitted for examination and a planning inspector has been appointed.

In all three cases, Pickles gave "significant weight" to the policies in the emerging HSCNP and made his decisions in line with its proposed housing allocations. The respective planning inspectors in each case had given the HSCNP little weight, considering that its policies might change through the examination and adoption process, and basing their decisions instead on the overall balance of benefits against potential harm offered.

Pickles refused permission for 120 homes at Sayers Common (48-page / 303 KB PDF) and for 81 dwellings on College Lane in Hurstpierpoint (64-page / 470 KB PDF) and granted permission for 157 homes at Little Park Farm and north of Highfield Drive (67-page / 475 KB PDF) in Hurstpierpoint. In all three decisions and in the decision on the Malmesbury proposals, Pickles said that he "consider[ed] it appropriate ... to give local people an opportunity to ensure they get the right types of development for their community while also planning positively to support strategic development needs".

The decisions come after the UK government announced in July that it would be taking an active interest in planning appeals in areas with neighbourhood plans forthcoming or in place. In a written statement to Parliament on 10 July, then under-secretary of state for communities and local government Nick Boles said that the SoS would consider recovering appeals relating to proposals for 10 or more homes in such areas for his own determination. 

The developers in each case have the right to challenge Pickles' decisions within six weeks of the respective decision dates.