QUEENS BENCH DIVISION
London, WC2A 2LL
B e f o r e :
| Bedfordia Plc
|- and -
|Huntingdonshire District Council
First Secretary of State
Smith Bernal Wordwave Limited, 190 Fleet Street
London EC4A 2AG
Tel No: 020 7421 4040, Fax No: 020 7831 8838
Official Shorthand Writers to the Court)
Mr Robin Purchas Q.C. and Miss Joanna Clayton (instructed by Huntingdonshire District Council) for the 1st Defendant
Crown Copyright ©
Mr Justice Lindsay:
The Planning History
" .. I have assumed that [Huntingdon] persist with the allocations which they propose in the Group Villages and which are not the subject of objections."
I shall return later to the subject of housing development in some villages. Making allowance for, inter alia, the 3136 dwellings which would represent appropriate development of those 43 sites, the Inspector foresaw a need for allocation of land for about a further 1479 dwellings. She then turned to where that land might be found.
"In my assessment, the main issue in relation to this site is whether the acceptability of the site in terms of paragraph 30 of PPG3 and the rτle it could play in achieving reduced car borne trip generation is outweighed by the acknowledged harm that an allocation would cause to the countryside. I consider therefore that the site is worthy of consideration alongside other acceptable sites."
She therefore carried the Site, it having survived, so to speak, the first round, on to a second round. The 13 sites that survived the first round, including the Site, offered the prospect of some 2273 dwellings, 800 more than were needed. She whittled the 13 sites down to 11 but the Site was within the 11 as to which she recommended allocation for housing. In doing so she had concluded that urban extension was the most sustainable option available.
"The Inspector's report is not binding upon the Council, but case law has established that an authority must have adequate reasons for rejecting an Inspector's views. In practice this means that authorities should accept an Inspector's findings unless there are very good reasons to reject them. To do otherwise risks legal challenges to the plan and further delays in getting the new policies adopted."
Unlike the position as it was in Fairfield supra, neither side before me argues that that sets the hurdle either too high or too low before a recommendation can be departed from. I shall therefore assume that the planning officers set the hurdle at the right height. The report considered the 11 sites on the Inspector's recommended list and recognised that whilst most of them needed to be allocated there were 2 cases in which the Inspector had not appropriately weighed up the material considerations. The Site was one of the two and of it the report said:-
"The other exception concerns Bedfordia Fields, Eaton Socon. The Inspector's recommendation that this site be allocated derives from her conclusion that its location in relation to the search sequence in PPG3 and its relative accessibility by non-car modes outweigh the harm to the countryside that would result from its development. The relevance of these material considerations can be accepted, but it is considered that the Inspector has given insufficient weight to the visual harm that would result from the loss of countryside in this location. The landscape value of keeping this land open has been recognised by previous Inspectors (as detailed in the Council's evidence to the Inquiry into the Local Plan Alteration), and is a matter to which considerable weight should be attached. Taking the various material considerations noted by the Inspector into account, it is considered that this weight is such as to count against the allocation of the site for development."
"The Council acknowledges the relevance of these material considerations, and accepts that they pull in different directions. However, it gives greater weight than the Inspector to the visual harm that would result from the loss of countryside in this location.
The landscape value of keeping this land open has been recognised by previous Inspectors (as detailed in the Council's evidence to the Inquiry into the Local Plan Alteration), and is a matter to which the Council attaches considerable weight. Taking the various material considerations noted by the Inspector into account, it considers that this weight is such as to count against the allocation of the site for development."
Those "various material conditions" no doubt included the prospect of a dedication of the rest of the Site.
"A Bedfordia Fields, St. Neots
A1 A significant proportion of all the representations received constitute expressions of support for the Council's intention not to allocate this site. Common concerns raised include fears about increased flood risks, traffic congestion and the loss of a valued tract of open land.
A2 However, Members should note that the Environment Agency is satisfied that the development would not result in increased flood risk, and adequate highway capacity is considered to be available. It is the visual harm arising from the loss of countryside which underpinned the Council's intention not to allocate the site (in the context of sufficient other sites being available so as not to require the additional houses that this site would provide).
A3 The one objection to the Council's position comes from the promoters of the site, who argue that the Inspector has weighed the various issues appropriately in reaching her recommendation that the site should be allocated; moreover, they consider that if a 'surplus' of houses exists, sites in other locations should be deleted before this one, due to its relatively 'sustainable' location (see pages 92-94 of Annex 2 for their arguments and the proposed response)."
The report shewed that with respect to Huntingdon's proposal not to allocate the Site for housing 244 received responses had supported that and only one had objected. The Officers said:-
"Even if the public consultation reveals local opposition to particular recommendations that the Council has proposed to accept, that in itself would not be an adequate basis for now rejecting the recommendations concerned. Adequate reasons need to reflect substantive and relevant issues that justify going against what the Inspector has said."
"Members will see from Annex 2 that none of the objections are considered sufficient, in legal terms, to justify further Proposed Modifications to the Alteration. In other words, no arguments have been made that merit any changes to the Proposed Modifications that Council approved on 12 June; and none of the responses justify accepting recommendations made by the Inspector which the Council was proposing not to accept.
The suggested reasons for these conclusions are set out in Annex 2 (alongside the relevant points made by objectors)."
"287. (1) If any person aggrieved by a unitary development plan or a local plan [minerals local plan or waste local plan] or by any alteration or replacement of any such plan or structure plan, desires to question the validity of the plan or, as the case may be, the alteration . or replacement on the ground
(a) that it is not within the powers conferred by Part II, or
(b) that any requirement of that Part or of any regulations made under it has not been complied with in relation to the approval or adoption of the plan or, as the case may be, its alteration, repeal or replacement,
he may make an application to the High Court under this section.
(2) On any application under this section the High Court
(b) if satisfied that the plan or, as the case may be, the alteration, or replacement is wholly or to any extent outside the powers conferred by Part II, or that the interests of the applicant have been substantially prejudiced by the failure to comply with any requirement of that Part or of any regulations made under it, may wholly or in part quash the plan or, as the case may be, the alteration . or replacement either generally or in so far as it affects any property of the applicant."
Relevant subsidiary legislation is to be found in the Town & Country Planning (Development Plan) (England) Regulations 1999 which provide, at Regulation 27 as follows:-
"27. (1) Where a Local Planning Authority cause a Local Inquiry or other hearing to be held for a purpose mentioned in Regulation 26 (1), the Authority shall, after considering the report of the person holding the inquiry or other hearing, prepare a statement of
(a) the decisions they have reached in the light of the report and any recommendations contained in the report; and
(b) the reasons for any of those decisions which do not follow a recommendation contained in the report."
Regulations 28 and 29 include the following:-
"28. (1) Where objections have been made to a plan or proposals in accordance with these Regulations and not withdrawn and the Local Planning Authority do not cause a Local Inquiry or other hearing to be held, the Authority shall prepare a statement of their decisions as respects all the objections and their reasons for each decision."
"29. (6) Where objections have been made to proposed modifications in accordance with this Regulation and not withdrawn and the Local Planning Authority do not cause a Local Inquiry or other hearing to be held, Regulation 28 shall apply to the consideration of the objections as it applies to the consideration of objections to statutory plan proposals."
Buckden, Fenstanton & Ramsey St. Mary
That is a little confusing as in the search sequence in PPG3 "urban extensions" come next ahead of such "nodes" but there is no reason why the Inspector should not have been taken to be saying that Yaxley not only could be treated as an urban extension in the search sequence but also that it had the additional benefit of comprising such a node.
"In my opinion, the housing would initially appear as an incongruous and rather awkward extension to the urban area and, whilst I accept that landscaping might in time soften the impact, I am firmly of the opinion that, even in the longer term, it would not reduce the impact to acceptable levels. In my view, the character and setting of Eaton Socon would be seriously harmed by the proposed housing and the intrinsic value of the site as an area of open space on the edge of the settlement would be significantly reduced."
An open mind
A prospective dedication of parts of the Site
"This offer would be a welcome contribution towards achieving the Council's open space policies in the adopted Local Plan. Although in itself it would not justify the allocation, it contributes to the argument in favour of allocating the land."
The inadequacy of Huntingdon's reasons