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Should Measures to Mitigate Harm Be Viewed as Planning Benefits?

Should steps taken to mitigate the potentially harmful effects of developments be treated as 'benefits' to be given weight in the planning balance? The High Court considered that issue in blocking proposals for 300 new homes on land adjoining a conservation area.

Field28In their quest for planning permission, the would-be developers took on obligations to carry out substantial off-site works to improve the capacity of one road junction and the safety features of another. It also agreed to set aside a plot of land for use as a primary school for seven years, during which time the local authority would have the option to purchase it at a commercial price.

The local authority took a neutral stance and, following a public inquiry, a planning inspector recommended that consent be granted. However, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government rejected that recommendation and refused permission on grounds that the benefits of the scheme were outweighed by the harm it would cause.

In challenging that decision, the developers argued that the Secretary of State was wrong to give little weight to the planning obligations. The road improvement works would do more than merely mitigate harm and a new school built on the reserved plot would serve not just the development but also the wider community.

In dismissing the developers’ arguments, however, the Court ruled that the Secretary of State was entitled to emphasise that any net or residual benefits arising from the planning obligations would come about by reason of the need to adopt mitigating measures. The housing proposal was not a form of enabling development and the obligations were designed to meet an identified need to lessen the impacts to which the scheme would otherwise give rise. The Court could detect no flaw in the Secretary of State’s exercise of his planning judgment.

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