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Can Developments That Conflict With Local Plans Ever Be 'Sustainable'?

In a guideline decision on the correct interpretation of the sustainability provisions of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), the High Court has scotched plans for 150 new homes on the edge of a market town.

Planning permission for the proposals had been refused by a local authority, and a government planning inspector subsequently agreed that the project would conflict with the area's local plan, which was designed to focus housing development within the boundaries of existing settlements.

However, in allowing the would-be developer's appeal and granting consent, the inspector nevertheless found that the development would be sustainable. Any harm, in terms of loss of countryside and impact on the area's character and appearance, would be limited and outweighed by the social and economic benefits of the proposals, including the provision of much needed affordable homes.

In ruling on the local authority's challenge to that decision, the Court noted that there were conflicting legal authorities on the correct interpretation of Paragraph 14 of the NPPF, which concerns sustainability. It also acknowledged that there was a residual discretion for inspectors to find developments sustainable even if they conflict with local plans.

However, in quashing the planning permission, the Court ruled that the inconsistency between the proposals and the local plan was a potentially weighty and substantial matter that militated in favour of planning permission being refused. Granting consent in such cases of conflict should be the exception, rather than the norm, and the inspector had misdirected himself in that respect.

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