In November I was asked to speak at a breakfast seminar. I chose to speak on Neighbourhood Plans (NPs). I did so, because it seemed to be a subject where national politics is sending out a twin message. Localism is to be encouraged, but so is housing growth. As I hadn’t previously been involved in a Neighbourhood Plan (although that was soon to change), the occasion was a chance to review case law and appeal precedents.
I learned that the Tattenhall case (a judicial review of a development proposal in Tattenhall, Cheshire), was a lead to best practice approach. In that instance the NP sought a spread of homes. That strategy was a local choice and the judgement confirmed that if other choices were not wanted through a democratic NP process, then they didn’t represent reasonable alternatives. Strategic environmental assessments could therefore be more democratic than objective.
I then learnt of the Henfield case. This was much more recent and where the judicial review outcome was a rebuke for the NP Inspector and the LPA. They had not recognised how recent, local appeal evidence was material to the consideration of reasonable alternatives. Hence, unlike Tattenhall, local preferences were not absolute.
Then I learned about the NP at Swanwick, where the findings of the Examination Inspector was so unwelcome locally, that the local electorate voted against their own NP at the eventual referendum. Hence, localism prevailed but not in the spirit of encouraging housing growth.
The Yapton appeal decision (a housing scheme in West Sussex) in November offered the most useful guidance. Here an Inspector recommended approval to new homes as there was a lack of 5 year housing supply. However the Secretary of State dismissed the appeal as the Yapton NP had sufficiently flexible boundaries to its village map so it could anticipate later growth requirements. The NP was therefore to be supported over the lack of housing supply.
However soon Yapton and my presentation, Planning Minister Gavin Barwell, offered written ministerial guidance that if a NP is current and the housing land supply is no less than 3 years, the NP policy takes priority. Watch this space!!