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Social Housing Speed Read – National Planning Policy Framework

The Supreme Court has handed down a landmark judgment concerning the effect of paragraph 49 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) after a three year planning dispute.

What happened between Cheshire East Council and Richborough Estates?

Local councils are required to assess land availability to identify a future supply of land which is suitable and available for housing development as part of their local plan.

Councils are guided by the NPPF in making such assessments of land availability. A local planning authority is expected to demonstrate a five year supply of deliverable housing sites.

The disagreement here related to a development of 170 houses at Moorfields, Willaston in Crewe and centred on the interpretation of paragraph 49 of the NPPF which creates a presumption in favour of “sustainable development” when considering housing applications. The presumption is aimed at boosting house building.

Richborough Estates applied to build homes in the local authority area yet had their applications rejected. Planning inspectors allowed the new housing as they deemed the council’s local plans out of date as they did not demonstrate a five year supply of deliverable housing sites however Cheshire East Council (joined by Suffolk Coastal Council as co-appellant) appealed against this decision.

What was the outcome?

The Supreme Court judgment rejected both appeals on their facts however did agree with the councils that the absence of a five year land supply would only invalidate those policies directly concerning housing, it would not invalidate all development policies.

The court said “no one would naturally describe a recently approved green belt policy in a local plan as ‘out of date’, merely because the housing policies in another part of the plan fail to meet the NPPF objectives.”

Sean Hannaby, director of planning and sustainable development at Cheshire East stated that: “We may have lost the battle in Willaston but we have certainly won the war in terms of resisting unsustainable, speculative development schemes that impact on our countryside and our residents.”

He considers this “a momentous victory for planners and planning authorities” believing “it strengthens the position of all local planning authorities seeking to resist unsustainable development in inappropriate areas”.

Essentially, this ruling could be a rare one in which we see both sides pleased with the outcome after three years of litigation.

This is because the ruling also stated that Richborough Estates’ planning consent should still stand meaning they will have discretion to which policies they follow where there are out of date Local Plans.

Five year supply

Andrew Whitaker, planning director of the Home Builders Federation, considers the judgment as a “good result for the industry” and believes it “re-emphasises the need for local authorities to maintain a five-year housing land supply”.

If the court did not agree with the councils and considered that the absence of a five year land supply would invalidate all development policies then we would have seen a broad range of policies being deemed out of date.

Ultimately, this judgment reaffirms the importance of plans and councils being able to demonstrate a five year supply of deliverable housing sites if they do not want planners to have discretion over which policies they follow.

Hopefully this decision will encourage the up to date assessment of available land and in turn we see more land available for housing development where appropriate to meet the demand for affordable housing.

If you have any questions on the above and how it will affect social housing providers, or any other questions as a social housing provider, please do not hesitate to contact John Murray or a member of our expert Social Housing Team.

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

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