Planning expert Jo Miles of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said "the decision demonstrates the importance to local authorities of ensuring that they have a local plan in place that is backed up by robust evidence of housing land supply."
Developer Beechcroft Land Ltd had applied to Wiltshire Council in December 2013 for outline planning permission to build up to 70 homes on two fields at the edge of the built up area of the village of Cricklade. The Council refused permission in May 2014 and Beechcroft appealed.
Following a hearing in December, planning inspector Stephen Brown issued his decision letter (9-page / 184 KB PDF) on 15 April. The inspector disagreed with Beechcroft's claim that the Council was unable to demonstrate a five year supply of housing land, as had been found in a 2014 appeal (48-page / 371 KB PDF). Brown said the latest evidence produced by the Council showed the position on housing land supply had changed since the previous appeal. He noted that the Wiltshire Core Strategy had been found sound in December 2014 and adopted in January and that the examining inspector had been satisfied that a five year supply of deliverable sites had been demonstrated.
The inspector considered that the development proposal "would not be justified in the light of the WCS". He noted that sites for 113 new homes needed to be found by 2026 in nine settlements in the community area that included Cricklade and that the WCS anticipated this housing development would be "in the form of small sites of less than 10 dwellings". He said that allowing 70 homes on one site in Cricklade would "skew provision away from other settlements" and, considering the proximity of Cricklade to Swindon, would run counter the stated aim in the WCS of reducing out-commuting.
Brown also considered that building on fields ran counter to the principle in the National Planning Policy Framework that the re-use of previously developed land should be encouraged, given that there were "opportunities in Cricklade for housing on previously developed land". He said allowing such a large development on greenfield land would "prejudice the process of establishing a new settlement boundary for Cricklade ... and particularly the opportunity for the community to review the boundary by means of the [emerging] neighbourhood plan".
Turning to the sustainability of the proposal, Brown considered that, whilst Cricklade was a suitable location for "modest levels of development", the proposed development "would not be well integrated with the town as a whole", would be "likely to prejudice opportunities for brownfield development of brownfield land" and would "fail to protect the countryside around Cricklade".
Miles said, "this decision highlights how councils can strengthen their case at appeal by progressing and adopting an up to date local plan backed up by robust evidence of housing land supply. In light of the appeal backlog for which the planning inspectorate has recently apologised, developers may increasingly find themselves in a position where the planning policy justification for their proposals diminishes between the time that they submit their application and the date on which a determination is made."