Log in | Register

Appeal: Inspector criticises ‘painfully out of date’ local plan

Stansted Airport / Shutterstock_716323411

In approving plans for 40 homes on countryside land near Stansted Airport, an inspector has heavily criticised Uttlesford District Council's local plan, remarking that it ‘had been out of date longer than it was in date’.

AUTHORITYUttlesford District Council

The appeal concerned 2.25 hectares of pastureland on the edge of Elsenham, a village a short distance north of Stansted Airport. The land’s owners, along with developer Rosconn Strategic Land, jointly sought permission to build 44 homes on the site, later revised down to 40. A one-day hearing met in August 2020.

The site was located outside the village’s settlement boundary and within the countryside protection zone (CPZ) around the airport. According to local policy, development is only allowed in the countryside if it “needs to be there” or is “appropriate to a rural area”.

Inspector Dominic Young noted that the Uttlesford Local Plan (2005) had been adopted seven years before the original NPPF, at a time when there was no requirement to significantly boost the supply of housing, no requirement to identify an objectively assessed need, and no presumption in favour of sustainable development.

The plan only covered the period up to 2011, and having expired nearly 10 years ago, had been out of date for longer than it was in date. Its housing requirements were derived from projections that were “three decades out of date”, and “most, if not all” of its allocations had “long since been built out”. On this basis, Young commented, “there can be little doubt that the local plan is now painfully out of date”, and “clearly not a strong foundation upon which to refuse planning permission”.

There had been an emerging local plan, which had identified the appeal site for housing, however, that was withdrawn in January 2020 in response to its examining inspector’s concerns that its proposed “garden communities” would worsen affordability problems in the area. Instead, the inspector had advised, the council should allocate more small and medium-sized sites such as the appeal site. 

The council acknowledged that it had not always strictly applied the restrictive policies in its out-of-date plan, and that its housing land supply situation would be “significantly worse” if it had. In other words, Young noted, continuing to apply these policies would “continue to compromise” the council’s ability to meet its housing need, and its settlement boundaries were therefore not to be considered “inviolable”. 

Although the council had met its housing targets in each of the past three years, the inspector added, there was little to show whether this was the result of a “fundamental shift”, or simply “an ephemeral eddy of appeal-based delivery”.

Considering the scheme’s impact on the character of the area, Young said that he would be “hard-pushed to describe the site, as some have, as open countryside”, noting that it was not a designated valued landscape and was subject to a number of “urbanising influences” nearby. The planned housing would have a “localised visual effect” arising from the site’s loss of open and undeveloped character, he found, but the overall harm would be “limited”.

“Based on the foregoing”, the inspector concluded, “it is clear that the adverse impacts of the proposal would not significantly and demonstrably outweigh [its] substantial benefits.” On this basis, he allowed the appeal.

The inspector’s report – case reference 3242550 – can be read here.

Image credit | Shutterstock