Housebuilder Gleeson Developments applied to Cherwell District Council in November 2013 for outline permission to build up to 117 homes on 10.5 hectares of farmland and grassland near the summit of Crouch Hill to the south-west of Banbury. The Council refused the application in March and Gleeson appealed to the Planning Inspectorate.
In a decision letter dated 6 January (14-page / 165 KB PDF), planning inspector Jennifer Vyse noted that both parties agreed there was a housing shortage in the Council's administrative area. In light of the Council's inability to demonstrate a five year supply of housing land, saved policies from the 1996 local plan for the area that sought to restrict development in the open countryside and outside the development boundary were not considered to be up-to-date.
However, the inspector said a saved policy that resisted "development that would cause demonstrable harm to the topography and character of the landscape" was not out-of-date. Vyse said that, "whilst it does apply to all countryside, [the policy] does not have the effect of a generic ban on general housing there" and noted that the policy was "broadly consistent" with principles of the National Planning Policy Framework "recognising the intrinsic character of the countryside and contributing to conserving and enhancing the natural environment".
The inspector noted that the application site lay within the Ironstone Hills and Valleys Character area, in which development "should only be permitted if it is sensitively sited and is sensitively designed to blend into the area". Vyse also noted that the parts of Crouch Hill on which the site was situated had been considered to be sensitive to development in reports by consultants Halcrow Group and WYG.
"In my consideration, the site is still seen as an essential component of the rural setting of the hill and, as a consequence, is very sensitive with a low capacity for residential development," said Vyse. "I am in no doubt that the erection of up to 117 dwellings on the lower field would constitute a considerable intrusion into that setting and would not be a sensitive development in its context."
The inspector considered that there would be "a significant adverse impact on the character and appearance of this part of the district" under the plans, "which impact would be compounded by some harm to the significance of the non-designated heritage asset that is Crouch Hill".
Vyse gave "substantial weight" to the benefits of providing 117 homes, including 30% affordable housing, in an area with a shortfall of housing. She also gave "considerable weight" to the social and economic benefits of the scheme, including the provision of jobs, the creation of 6.3 hectares of accessible public open space and the increased ecological value of the site under the proposals.
However, the inspector concluded that, "notwithstanding the shortfall in housing land supply", the benefits of the scheme did not outweigh the "substantial environmental harm" that would be caused by allowing "unjustified development in the countryside".