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Affordable Housing Shortage Proves Decisive in High Court Planning Case

The chronic shortage of affordable homes is a powerful driver in favour of permitting building projects that might otherwise be considered objectionable. The High Court made that point in upholding planning permission for residential development of a pastoral field.

The local planning authority (LPA) opposed the development of up to 10 entry-level affordable homes, with an access road, car parking and a publicly accessible village green. It argued that the development would encroach into a green gap between the built forms of a small village and harm the setting of a heritage asset, a Grade II-listed church.

Following a public inquiry, a planning inspector acknowledged that the proposal did not conform to the LPA's spatial strategy and conflicted with the local development plan. He assessed the harm that would arise from that conflict as moderate and reached the same conclusion in respect of harms to the setting of the church and the area's character and appearance. He found that the cumulative effect of all those harms was significant.

However, in granting conditional planning permission for the development, he also gave significant weight to the area's scarcity of affordable housing and housing land generally. The LPA did not challenge his conclusion that it could not demonstrate that it had in hand a five-year supply of deliverable housing sites.

The inspector assessed the harm and benefit of the proposal as roughly equal. In a finely balanced decision, it was the housing land shortfall and the National Planning Policy Framework's presumption in favour of sustainable development that tipped the overall balance in favour of the development.

In dismissing the LPA's challenge to that outcome, the Court rejected arguments that the inspector misinterpreted local landscape conservation policies and a national policy that supports entry-level affordable housing. The balancing exercise that he conducted did not reveal any error of planning judgment.

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