Plan Policies still hold weight
Letter published by the West Sussex County Times, 10 March 2022.
Plan policies still hold weight
On 1 March, acting on the advice of officers HDC’s Planning Committee North changed its reasons for refusing the application DC/20/2564 to build 73 dwellings on countryside at Woodfords, Southwater, which is now the subject of a planning Appeal (WSCT March 3).
This proposal had been refused because it is contrary to Strategic Policies 2, 4 and 26 of the HDPF in that the site is not located within a defined settlement boundary, remains unallocated for development, and is not essential to the countryside location.
Officers advised the committee that the NPPF requires that where a Council is unable to demonstrate a five-year supply of deliverable housing sites, those policies most important for determining applications be deemed out-of-date.
And since HDC did not have the requisite five-year supply, HDPF Policies 2,4 and 26 had to be deemed out-of-date; consequently, that the proposed scheme was contrary to these policies was no longer grounds for refusal.
Instead HDC was to refuse on the grounds that insufficient information had been provided to demonstrate with a sufficient degree of certainty that the proposed development would not contribute to an existing adverse effect upon the integrity of the internationally designated protection areas and sites in the Arun Valley by way of increased water abstraction, and that how the proposed scheme would meet the affordable housing needs of the district had not been demonstrated.
Both reasons are most certainly valid, but to disregard Policies 2,4 and 26 is not sensible.
With one exception, members of Planning Committee North were unaware of the Court of Appeal ruling (3 Feb 21) that even where development plan policies are rendered “out of date” by housingland shortfalls, they remain “potentially relevant” and decision-makers are not legally bound to disregard policies of the development plan when applying the ‘tilted balance’ under NPPF paragraph 11d) ii (Neutral Citation Number:  EWCA Civ 104. Case No: C1/2020/0542/QBACF).
None it seems were aware that notwithstanding the district’s lack of a five-year supply two planning applications refused by the Council had been dismissed at appeal: APP/Z3825/W/21/3266503 Land South of Newhouse Farm, Horsham, 29 July 2021, and APP/Z3825/W/20/3261401 Land north of Sandy Lane, Henfield, West Sussex,19 August 2021.
Applying the tilted balance, the Planning Inspectors gave some weight to relevant planning policies in the HDPF, including modest weight to Policies 2,4 and 26, concluding that the benefits of the proposed developments did not outweigh the conflict with the HDPF ‘taken as a whole’. Note taken as a whole.
All but three members voted in support of the officers’ recommendations.
If applied to all applications, the council’s view that the plan’s policies taken as a whole are of no relevance to decision takers is mistaken and misguided. Developers will exploit.
Dr R F Smith, Trustee CPRE Sussex