NEIGHBOURHOOD PLANNING Appeals recovery period extended for the third time
The Secretary of State has powers to “recover” planning appeals submitted to the planning inspectorate. A “recovered inquiry” is a planning appeal (against a local authority’s decision to refuse a planning application) which the Secretary of State can decide to determine himself, rather than allowing a planning inspector to take the final decision.
The Secretary of State has been particularly keen to ensure all planning appeal decisions reflect the Government’s policy intentions for neighbourhood planning, which is “…to provide a powerful set of tools for local people to ensure they get the right types of development for their community, while also planning positively to support strategic development needs”.
Over the past 24 months the Secretary of State has given particular scrutiny to planning appeals in, or close to, neighbourhood plan areas to enable him to consider the extent to which the Government’s intentions are being achieved on the ground. These provisions have been introduced on a time limited period, and the latest extension has been announced:
On the 7th July 2016, Communities Minister Baroness Williams announced in a Written Ministerial Statement that the criteria for recovering housing schemes which fall within Neighbourhood Plan areas has been extended for a further 6 months. The threshold for recovery has been increased from 10 units to 25 units.
The powers were recently extended in January 2016 for a further 6 months, following the Secretary of State’s re-determination of the recovered Appeal at Sayers Common, West Sussex. The new extension of powers, effective from this month, see an increase in the minimum threshold to 25 units.
Baroness Williams implied this may partially be due to the accrued experience those involved in Neighbourhood Planning have gained in recent years. However, the new threshold for schemes in Neighbourhood Plan areas does not prevent the recovery of Appeals in Neighbourhood Plan areas below 25 units, if the Secretary of State considers this appropriate.
The publication of a recent study which found that Communities Secretary, Greg Clark, has approved the construction of 82% of homes which were subject of a recovered appeal in Neighbourhood Plan areas. This is compared to only 19% being approved by Eric Pickles since the temporary recovery powers were granted in July 2014.
Secretary of State Powers in Practice
An Appeal earlier this year saw Greg Clark approve 110 dwellings on Land north of Bishops Lane, Ringmer, stating that the additional 24 dwellings over and above the minimum proposed in the Neighbourhood Plan, would not result in any adverse effect on the character and appearance of the area.
A recent Secretary of State determination saw Greg Clark grant permission for 280 homes in Haddenham. This followed Aylesbury Vale District Council’s decision not to Appeal the Judicial Review of the Haddenham Neighbourhood Plan, which had quashed the housing policies of the Plan due to serious errors in the scoring system used to allocate sites.
Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill
The 18th May 2016 saw the Queen’s Speech introduce the Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill which aims to give more control to local communities over shaping their own area, whilst helping to deliver the Government’s ambition to deliver one million new homes.
The Bill places a duty on Local Governments to support groups more transparently and also to improve the process for development plan review.
The Government is still committed to neighbourhood planning and the new Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill is a clear statement of intent that more planning control will be given to local communities. Clearly, this will have to be balanced with the overall national imperative of delivering more new homes more quickly. Undoubtedly, the Secretary of State’s decisions on recovered appeals are going to be a fine balance, particularly where housing proposals and Neighbourhood Plans conflict.
Current indications would suggest, the national imperative of new housing delivery remains high on the agenda although it is compelling to see the increase in the number of homes now being permitted by the Secretary of State where there is an advanced Neighbourhood Plan, given the overriding need to meet the shortfall of homes across the country.
The recovery powers are now firmly in place for another 6 months and it will be interesting to see how the Secretary of State will continue to apply the Government’s policies and guidance, particularly in light of an increased threshold to 25 dwellings in Neighbourhood Plan areas.