Planning background

Normally a planning officer or committee would be likely to turn down an application to build on greenfield land that lies outside of the Council’s housing development boundary.

Unfortunately, this did not happen. Here’s why.

About B&NES Core Strategy and Placemaking Plan

In 2008, the Government asked all local councils, including Bath & North East Somerset (B&NES), to produce a Core Strategy – a development plan document (DPD) that sets out a framework for land use and the locations for new housing, jobs and other strategic developments throughout the district for the next 15 to 20 years.

B&NES’ Core Strategy replaces policies in its existing Local Plan, and provides policy guidance for other Council documents, such as the forthcoming new Placemaking Plan which reviews housing development boundaries and housing sites in villages.

B&NES submitted its draft Core Strategy to the Government for inspection in May 2011, but the Inspector raised a number of concerns. Crucially, he said that it did not provide enough housing.

The Inspector suggested that the Council re-assess the amount of housing it aims to build, so that it complies with guidance in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), a Government document designed to help councils with planning policy.

B&NES was given more time to review the number of new homes that will need to be built through the district, along with a number of other issues. This extra time allowed them to make the necessary amends to the draft Core Strategy, without withdrawing it completely.

The Government Inspector resumed his Core Strategy hearings in 2014 and it was formally adopted by the Council on 10 July 2014.

How did this situation affect decision-making around Greenlands Field?

Under planning law, applications for planning permission have to be decided in accordance with the council’s Development Plan (DP) unless so-called ‘material considerations’ indicate otherwise.

According to B&NES previous development plans and the new Core Strategy (once adopted), any development on Greenlands Field would be contrary to Policy HG.4, which seeks to keep new developments inside existing housing boundaries.

Greenlands Field lies outside of the housing boundary and at the time of the application was marked ‘unsuitable for development’ in the Council’s Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment (SHLAA)  Appendix 1.d Somer Valley, PEA 7).

However, the ‘material considerations’ that were taken into account included the preliminary conclusions of the Inspector on the Core Strategy (regarding housing numbers for the area), and the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) aims to speed up planning and promote growth, and sets out a presumption in favour of ‘sustainable development’.

Importantly, the NPPF enforced a 12-month implementation period for local planning authorities to put in place their Core Strategy. It ended on 27 March 2013, nine months before B&NES’ revised Core Strategy is due to be adopted.

The NPPF states in paragraphs 214 and 215:

“For 12 months from the day of publication, decision-takers may continue to give full weight to relevant policies adopted since 2004, even if there is a limited degree of conflict with this Framework… In other cases and following this 12-month period, due weight should be given to relevant policies in existing plans according to their degree of consistency with this framework (the closer the policies in the plan to the policies in the Framework, the greater the weight that may be given).”

Put simply, from the end of March 2013, the policies in the NPPF would trump B&NES’ outdated Local Plan and draft Core Strategy.

In short, this meant the Council was unable to defend its decision to refuse planning to Edward Ware at Appeal hearings in June 2014, and a Government Inspector awarded outline planning permission to the developer, concluding:

“Elements of the Local Plan are out of date as the Council is unable to demonstrate a suitable supply of housing land and so development outside the Housing Development Boundary may be acceptable. In relation to Policy NE.1 (the only policy relied on by the Council) I find that the proposal would conserve the landscape character of the area…”

Had this appeal been heard one month later in July 2014 (with the adopted Core Strategy in place and illustrating an adequate supply of homes planned for across the region, and in particular the Somer Valley), the appeal would have been refused based on the fact that it contravened the saved planning law HG.4 (the field lies outside of the housing development boundary and deemed ‘unsuitable’ for development).

A government inspector is now looking at the Council’s proposed Placemaking Plan, which seeks to include Greenlands Field within the Housing Development Boundary. This is despite the Parish Council requesting that the field is not taking into the HDB until full planning is awarded to the developer (i.e. the Reserved Matters application is approved by the Council and building goes ahead).

We believe that if the field is too steep to build on, and if full planning cannot be awarded, the field should remain outside the housing development boundary and its status of ‘unsuitable for development’ should be reinstated.