Planning law: NPPF overriding adopted plans, is this a win for developers?
On the 23rd January an important planning appeal decision was made which many will see as a ‘win’ for developers. It was an appeal by Cooper Estates against Sevenoaks District Council.
In this case the inspector decided that permission should be granted for four schemes which would create 140 new homes. One of the key reasons for this decision was the fact that, despite Sevenoaks District Council’s local plan providing for the required five year housing supply based on SDC’s housing figures, the objectively assessed housing need for the area had ‘not nearly been met’.
The inspector found that SDC were unable to rely on its local plan which was adopted in 2011 and the housing supply numbers within it because those numbers were based on outdated figures contained in the regional strategy which, although in place at the time the local plan was adopted, was later abolished.
SDC’s housing policy was therefore inconsistent with the method of calculating housing need contained in paragraphs 14 and 150 -159 of the National Planning Policy Framework. This inconsistency was a material consideration for the inspector who followed paragraph 215 of the NPPF which states that policies in existing plans are to be given weight based on their degree of consistency with the NPPF. If (as in this case) they are inconsistent little or no weight is given to them.
This effectively means that unless a local planning authority’s local plan complies with the NPPF and particularly with the way in which housing supply numbers are calculated, then that plan, regardless of when it was adopted or last updated, is open to challenge and the presumption for sustainable development will apply.
Any LPA that has inconsistent policies in its local plan or that has used similar methods when calculating housing supply figures now needs to consider the implications of this case carefully. If challenges are to be avoided, policies must be updated and housing supply numbers reassessed in accordance with need as set out in the NPPF. Some LPAs in the South East may well find that the housing numbers produced using the NPPF method are significantly higher than those provided for in the now abolished South East Plan. This is due to the fact that the South East Plan allowed for particular growth areas in the region which artificially lowered housing numbers for other areas. There may be similar implications in other regions.
This decision is therefore likely to be quite significant and will be of interest to developers but a concern to the 89.1% of LPAs that do not have a local plan that has been checked against and adopted after the NPPF came into “full force” in April of last year.