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High Court Boosts Plans for New Neighbourhood of 1,200 Homes

The mere fact that a development proposal may encounter difficulties and eventually prove undeliverable does not generally justify a refusal of planning permission. The High Court made that point in breathing new life into plans to construct a whole new neighbourhood of 1,200 homes.

Housing constructionIn promoting the project, the would-be developer emphasised a shortfall in housing land in the area and that 30 percent of the new homes would be affordable. The local authority, however, refused consent, citing traffic congestion and air quality concerns. After a public inquiry, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government followed the advice of one of his planning inspectors and confirmed the refusal of planning permission.

In upholding the developer’s challenge to that decision, however, the Court found that a crucial part of the Secretary of State’s decision was something of a muddle. He had irrationally focused on concerns that the project would be undeliverable because the developer did not own playing fields through which a key access to up to 700 homes was proposed to run.

The Court noted that, as a general rule, the question of whether a proposal can be implemented is irrelevant to the decision whether to grant permission. There is no legal requirement that consent must be refused unless a developer commits itself to implementing a proposal. Doubts about the scheme’s deliverability were thus not a material consideration which should have weighed in the balance.

The Court rejected the developer’s argument that, by engaging in unrecorded and informal conversations with objectors to the proposal during the inquiry and a site visit, the inspector had given an appearance of bias. The refusal of planning permission was nevertheless quashed and the Secretary of State was directed to consider the matter afresh in the light of the Court’s ruling.

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