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Yes, that does sound like a pivotal case that should be determined by the SOS, and the SOS is giving additional scrutiny to such applications. Here’s Planning magazine’s take on the issue:
“Earlier this month, planning minister Brandon Lewis confirmed that secretary of state scrutiny of appeals involving housing proposals in neighbourhood plan areas would continue for an additional six months. Experts said the measure ensured a consistent approach, adding that the secretary of state appeared to be giving weight to neighbourhood plans wherever possible when making decisions.
The criteria for consideration of the recovery of appeals was updated in July 2014 to include proposals for residential developments of more than ten units in areas where there is a made or submitted neighbourhood plan. It was originally updated for a period of 12 months. However, last July Lewis said in a written statement that the period would be extend for a further six months.
Now he has confirmed in a fresh written statement that the measure will remain in place for another six months. Speaking during the report stage of the Housing and Planning Bill, the minister also said the government would “continue to review the measures” during this period.
The Department for Communities and Local Government said that the secretary of state had so far recovered 33 appeals under this criterion since it was introduced in July 2014.
Neil Homer, co-founder and planning director at consultancy rCOH, said that communities secretary Greg Clark’s decisions on recovered appeals had consistently backed neighbourhood plans that have been made, that have unambiguous policies and with which the appealed proposals are clearly in conflict.
Homer said that secretary of state decisions that had appeared at first glance not to back neighbourhood plans tended to relate to cases where the document could not be given sufficient weight – as it had not yet been made – “or where the conflict between a neighbourhood plan and a proposal was not so clear cut”.
Stephen Tapper, the Planning Officers Society’s neighbourhood planning convener, said that the communities secretary clearly wanted to give weight to neighbourhood plans when making appeal decisions. But he added that some cases pointed to an “overriding weight” given to the need to meet a five-year supply of housing. Tapper said that where a five-year supply is absent “because councils haven’t got up-to-date local plans that then is not unexpectedly taking precedence (over neighbourhood planning policies)”.
Tapper said: “I think he’s approaching it correctly. He is saying, ‘Look, I’m going to examine very carefully those cases where there’s a neighbourhood plan in place, and I’m going to look at those relevant policies very carefully, and I will give weight to them – but at the end of the day, I can’t let them override a situation where the local council hasn’t got a five-year supply and the site itself is one that can be – shall we say – managed satisfactorily in terms of environment and transportation and so on.”
Tapper gave the example of a decision by Clark last year to approve 39 homes on a site not allocated for development in an emerging neighbourhood plan drawn up in the Northamptonshire village of Earls Barton. Clark ruled that a five-year housing land supply shortfall should trump policies in the neighbourhood plan.
Tapper said: “The impact of that on local people is probably to make them say, ‘Well why have we been bothered’? But the reality is that … there wasn’t the necessary five-year supply. That is an absolutely overriding priority for government to ensure that there is a good supply of housing coming forward. So you can understand why he made that decision.”
Tapper said neighbourhood plan policies had to be robust and well-written because “otherwise they’re not going to have effect”. He added: “The lesson for local planning authorities is they’ve really got to pay more attention to the quality of the policies that are emerging in neighbourhood plans and make sure they are as good as their own policies in terms of the way they’re structured and the way they’re evidenced.”
Nigel McGurk, planning inspector and neighbourhood plan examiner, said the scrutiny measure provides “for a degree of consistency across the country”. He said the secretary of state had been “standing by the neighbourhood planning legislation”. McGurk added: “He’s not letting the legislation fall by the wayside and that gives a very powerful message for communities – these are people who devote hours and hours of their spare time to producing plans and they want to see that the plans, when they take shape, actually have the power that legislation promises that they have.”
I hope this is helpful / of interest.
Centre for Sustainable Energy