Secretary of State permission for housing in special landscape area

By Emma Montlake

ELF has been lending support and direct assistance from an ELF network member to a community in Ashover for more than the last year and a half to help resist a series of housing applications for the same site in North East Derbyshire.

A small, historic rural village, Ashover was identified as a growth area with a 40% increase in houses to be delivered. This is illustrative of what is happening all over England as local authorities have to submit to central government’s housing targets. Not having an up to date local plan and 5 year housing supply (required by paragraph 49 of the National Planning Policy Framework), as is the case here, ties the hands of local authorities and makes it more difficult for communities seeking to resist “windfall” planning applications.

The campaign in Ashover has centred on a field outside the settlement boundary, designated a Special Landscape Area (SLA). The original housing application on the field was turned down in 2007; it was resubmitted in August 2014 and turned down for amongst other reasons, its intrusion into the countryside. It came back again in 2015 and despite the planning officer putting the Committee under considerable pressure to recommend it, was refused again. Almost the same application was then resubmitted under the local authorities “free go”, which allows a developer another chance to apply when an application is recommended for approval by the planning officer and turned down by the committee.

Last year this refusal was appealed by the applicant and an inquiry held. That is a total of 5 planning applications on one site over a number of years. Developer’s deeper pockets naturally produce a relentlessness that can overwhelm local communities. It must be remembered that each new application requires a whole new raft of objections from the local community, despite one application being almost identical to its predecessor.

As a community Ashover collected a petition of over 2000 signatures against the 2014 application and in the region of 400 letters of objection were lodged with the council. Of course this was one application so for each new application, such efforts are required anew.

Additional interest in this matter was the fact that the village was some way down the line to producing its own neighbourhood plan with the first draft to be ready in December 2015. Neighbourhood plans allow communities to shape their own plans for local development, through a process of consultation and ultimate referendum. The site was not identified for housing within the draft neighbourhood plan. This created an added layer to the decision making and gave rise to questions regarding the consideration to be given to the emerging neighbourhood plan.

Following the appeal hearing, the community was informed that the Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills, Sajid Javid, had decided to recover the appeal because it “involves a proposal for residential development of over 25 units in areas where a qualifying body has submitted a neighbourhood plan proposal to the local authority but the relevant plan has not yet been made”.

ELF was notified on the 20th December 2016, that whilst the Inspector had recommended dismissal of the appeal, because of the “intrusion into the countryside” and the “harmful effects” outweighing the housing need, the Secretary of State disagreed with the Inspector’s recommendation and granted planning permission, giving substantial weight to the contribution the scheme would make to the government’s aim of boosting housing supply in a district with a limited supply of suitable sites and a need for more housing.

Our ELF enquirer said

“it’s exceedingly unfortunate that, the Inspector having resolved to dismiss the appeal (having inevitably examined the application in far greater depth and having visited the site), the Secretary of State has recovered the appeal and instead granted permission.”

Clearly such a decision for the community is devastating, having come so far. We are now working with them to look at possible statutory review.

The lack of a 5 year housing supply was a key element in this case. However some confusion has now been thrown into the mix by the government, on the need for a 5 year housing land supply.

The new Housing Ministerial Statement published on the 12th December 2016, Neighbourhood Planning: Written statement – HCWS346 sets out new policy for where there is a neighbourhood plan in place, only a 3 year housing supply need be demonstrated.

The campaign continues…