On 2 July 2014, the secretary of state issued his decision on two appeals against the Wychavon District Council’s refusal of planning permission for two large housing schemes. The first (Appeal A) was brought by Barberry Droitwich, represented by No5 Chambers’ Jeremy Cahill QC and Victoria Hutton, and was for up to 500 dwellings and a 200-unit care facility, a mixed-use local centre, public open space, access, landscaping and infrastructure at Pulley Lane and Newland Road, Droitwich.
The second (Appeal B) was brought by Persimmon Homes and Prowting Projects, represented by No5 Chambers’ Ian Dove QC and Suella Fernandes. It concerned 265 dwellings, associated car parking, access, infrastructure and open space provision at land north of Pulley Lane and Newland Lane, Droitwich Spa.
The main issues at the inquiry were set out by the inspector as:
- The extent to which the proposed development is consistent with the development plan for the area and would deliver a sustainable form of development;
- Whether the proposed development is premature in light of the emerging SWDP and national guidance;
- Whether the proposed development is necessary to meet the housing need in the district bearing in mind the housing land supply position;
- The effect of the proposed development on the character and appearance of the area; and
- The effect of the proposals on local highway infrastructure.
Agreeing with the inspector, Harold Stevens, who heard the appeals between 28 January and 14 February 2014, the secretary of state allowed each of the appeals. He made the following conclusions with regards to Appeal A:
- The development was sustainable in economic, environmental and social terms and so the presumption in favour of sustainable development applies;
- Granting permission for the appeal scheme cannot be seen as being likely to prejudice the local plan and so cannot be regarded as premature. In particular, the secretary of state took account of the fact that the council is proposing an extra 3,000 homes and had yet to decide where they should go, that there were unresolved objections to the SWDP and also that the appeal site had previously been actively considered for development;
- The council could not demonstrate a five-year housing land supply and so the paragraph 14 presumption in favour of sustainable development applied; and
- The proposed development would not significantly harm the character and appearance of the area and the countervailing environmental benefits more than outweighed the harm caused by the loss of greenfield land.
With regards to Appeal B, the secretary of state concluded:
- Local Plan Policy GD1 is no longer fit for purpose as land beyond the settlement boundary needed to be released for development. Policy SR1 was out of date, triggering the operation of paragraph 14 of the framework;
- Prematurity could not stand as a reason for refusal;
- The council could not demonstrate a five-year supply; and
- There was no logical basis to refuse the Appeal B scheme on the basis of landscape impact.
At the end of the inquiry, each of the parties applied to the secretary of state for costs on the basis of the council’s unreasonable behaviour. The secretary of state made a partial award of costs in both appeals.
In relation to Appeal A, the award was for the costs incurred as a result of the council’s refusal to withdraw its five-year supply reason for refusal. With regards to Appeal B, the partial award was for both the five-year supply reason for refusal and also that of prematurity.