A planning expert has said the decision highlights one of the potential benefits to developers of promoting a number of smaller sites for development.
West Dorset District Council refused permission last November for Mr D Foot's outline plans to construct around 20 homes on land he owned next to the built edge of the village of Mosterton. Planning inspector Geoffrey Hill allowed Foot's subsequent appeal last week after finding that the proposed scheme would cause only limited harm to the AONB and that it represented sustainable development in an area with a housing shortage.
The inspector noted in his decision letter (6-page / 141 KB PDF) that the Council was only able to demonstrate a 3.1 year supply of housing land, and that planning permission ought, therefore, "be granted without delay unless any adverse effects of doing so would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits when assessed against the policies of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) as a whole".
The NPPF requires that "great weight" is given in planning decisions to "conserving landscape and scenic beauty in … AONBs" and recommends that permission should be refused for major development within an AONB unless allowing it is demonstrably in the public interest or other "exceptional circumstances" exist. Whilst the proposed development site was entirely within the Dorset AONB, Hill noted in his decision letter that the NPPF "does not necessarily preclude all built development" in an AONB and that the proposed scheme was not large in scale.
Hill said the landscape surrounding Mosterton had the essential characteristics of the Axe Valley Hills Landscape Character Area but was "not devoid of built development", and Mosterton itself "does not relate to or contribute towards, the essential characteristics of the AONB which need to be respected". The inspector accepted that the scheme would be clearly visible from the wider area and would cause "some harm to the beauty of the countryside", but said that the new homes were "unlikely to be significantly more prominent or visually intrusive" than existing homes immediately adjacent to the site.
Overall, the inspector was satisfied that the benefits of granting permission for the scheme, including the provision of houses and temporary construction jobs and continued economic support for local shops and businesses, were not outweighed by the limited harm it would cause to the AONB.
"Although the scheme would introduce new built development in to the AONB, the degree of harm would be limited taking account of the setting and existing development nearby," said Hill. "In the absence of any cogent evidence showing where and when the Council's housing supply can be brought up to the expected five-year minimum, I consider the adverse effects of the proposed scheme would not significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits."
Planning expert Sophie Walter of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said: "This decision will be of interest to landowners and developers promoting housing development within AONBs. The inspector highlighted that whilst the NPPF requires great weight to be attached to conserving AONBs, it does not preclude all development within an AONB."
"The inspector agreed with the Council that the development at only 20 dwellings was not large in scale, and as such, the requirement to refuse development within an AONB, except in exceptional circumstances and where it can be demonstrated it is in the public interest, was not triggered. This acts as a timely reminder of a key benefit of promoting a greater number of smaller sites.