Two planning local appeal decisions were released yesterday, Friday 18/10/2013. Philip Major, the Inspector appointed by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, dismissed the appeal over Sandbach Road North Alsager but granted the appeal for Congleton Road Sandbach. This is good news for Alsager and in particular the Residents in the proximity of Sandbach Road North but very disappointing news for our neighbours in Sandbach.
The Cheshire East Legal Team did well to win the Sandbach Road North appeal. ARAG Officers attended on every day of both these appeals, witnessed a considerable amount of very detailed evidence and cross examination and made a significant contribution to the process. It is encouraging to see that effort was worthwhile and not wasted and that it is possible to win an appeal in the current environment and in the absence of a Local Plan and 5 year supply.
ARAG was thanked directly by Richard Humphreys QC, acting for Cheshire East, for our attendance, on-going help and effective evidence statements. This serves to demonstrate the importance of resident attendance and participation at these appeals and that we can influence the final outcome. ARAG members were also the only Local Representatives to attend the important site visits allowing us to be in a position to answer questions from the inspector using our local knowledge and experience.
Throughout these appeals, we have had the opportunity to develop our knowledge and subsequent input by attending the appeals and witnessing the various approaches by the Developers’ legal teams. We are using this experience and carefully following the advice from professional planning consultants who are helping our organisation to prepare our documentation and strategies.
Mr Major concluded that Cheshire East Council is unable to demonstrate a 5 year supply of deliverable housing sites. Furthermore, he concludes that Cheshire East does not have a Local Plan in place, and gives ”little weight” to it as an emerging Local Plan or to the Alsager Town Strategy, which he views as an “information gathering exercise to inform the preparation of the Local Plan”.
Removing Cheshire East’s ability to demonstrate a 5 year supply of housing is a serious threat to future planning decisions and appeals. It does however highlight the very important point that it is possible to overcome the lack of a 5 year supply if there is a detailed and well researched substantive argument against housing development on a specific site. Each Planning Proposal and the objections to it will be considered on its merits and the public response to such proposals is a significant consideration.
It is clear that at future appeals and with future planning proposals, ARAG and residents must concentrate on the site specific issues. It is also extremely important to ensure that there is substantial local representation. ARAG was the only group to attend all of the appeals sessions ( over 20 days ). It is clearly very important to ensure that there is a substantial and vocal presence of Local representatives, the Community and Town Councillors at these planning appeals.
In this case, Sandbach Road North Alsager was dismissed by the Inspector primarily because there would be serious harm to the character and appearance of the countryside, and therefore a conflict with development plan policies. The Inspector also thought it wise not to proceed with this development because of the duty to cooperate with Neighbouring Authorites and in this case because Alsager is considered to be an area of restraint due to re-generation activities in the Potteries.
The summary decisions are given below and The text of the two appeals can be viewed here.
The following text extracts summarise the results of the appeals.
Sandbach – Congleton Road.
87. The Council is unable, on my assessment, to demonstrate a 5 year supply of deliverable housing sites. This is a substantial material consideration in favour of the proposal. In addition the affordable housing to be provided is of significant benefit. There is conflict with the development plan as described above, but the harm identified, to landscape, loss of BMV land, and the loss of outlook for local residents do not amount to significant and demonstrable harm which would outweigh the benefits of the scheme. In this instance there are material considerations which outweigh conflict with the development plan. For the reasons given above I conclude that the appeal should be allowed.
Alsager – Sandbach Road North – Overall Balance and Area of Restraint.
66. Impact on adjoining authorities. The adjoining Councils (Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle-under-Lyme) have been consulted in relation to the draft development strategy and have made it clear that there are reservations in relation to development close to the common boundaries of a scale which might prejudice regeneration in their areas. However, there is no specific objection lodged to this particular proposal. I bear in mind that the final version of the CEC Local Plan has yet to be examined and the matter of the duty to cooperate with neighbouring authorities will no doubt form part of that examination. So whilst I cannot indicate that granting permission on this site would cause difficulties for regeneration elsewhere, it would seem wise, in this part of the Borough, not to proceed with development which would go beyond the draft strategy at this stage. This matter is not determinative in its own right, but is a matter which adds caution to the process of decision making. (italics added)
69. In this section I balance the determinative matters at issue. I start from the position that the Council cannot yet, in my assessment, demonstrate a 5 year supply of deliverable housing land. This is an important and substantial material consideration, and in light of the NPPF it would normally lead to a grant of planning permission unless significant and demonstrable impacts would outweigh the benefits of the scheme. The benefits also include the provision of affordable housing – a significant matter. But there is no material support from the sustainable credentials of the site or any of the other benefits listed above.
70. On the other hand there would be serious harm resulting from the impact of the proposal on the character and appearance of the countryside, and consequent conflict with the development plan policies noted earlier, which carry significant weight. This harm to character and appearance is significant and is demonstrable. Such harm is not to be taken lightly and has, in my judgement, been underestimated by the Appellant.
71. The lack of a 5 year supply of deliverable housing land does not provide an automatic ‘green light’ to planning permission, even if accompanied by affordable housing and other minor benefits as in this case. A balance must still be struck. In this instance I am satisfied that the balance lies with the harm to character and appearance of the countryside, and is so significant that it outweighs the lack of housing land supply and other identified benefits. It would not matter if I had decided that Policies PS8 and H6 were out of date as I consider that the harm in this case is such that the appeal must fail.