A recent appeal decision has put a further spotlight on the application of the sequential test, which must be overcome when edge-of-centre and out-of-centre sites are brought forward for ‘main town centre uses’. In essence, the sequential test helps protect the vitality of town centres by requiring developers to consider whether more central sites are suitable and available for the proposed development.

This appeal decision related to a planning application for an 11,148 square metre retail and leisure development on land situated five miles from Hull city centre. The application was refused by Hull City Council in November 2016, and following an inquiry the Inspector has now backed the Council’s decision, principally on the basis that the application failed the sequential test.

One particularly interesting point that was discussed in the appeal decision was the concept of ‘disaggregation’ – i.e. the requirement to consider dividing the proposed development among a number of (sequentially preferable) sites. Since the introduction of the NPPF in 2012, there has not been a requirement to consider the scope for disaggregation – a position which has since been backed up by a number of recent appeal decisions. The Inspector in the present case has now reintroduced this concept, and concluded that the proposed development could be accommodated on two separate sites within the city centre.

Although this was one of the principal reasons for the Inspector’s decision, it’s worth noting that the proposed development was also considered contrary to the Council’s Local Plan, as the development site had already been allocated for employment and community use. Nonetheless, given the limited detail of how the sequential test should be applied within the NPPF, Inspectors are becoming increasingly reliant on appeal decisions and case law when reaching their conclusions, so their importance should not be underestimated. This will be particularly pertinent for developers who are looking to bring forward out-of-town retail or leisure development, as they may now have the additional burden of demonstrating to the local planning authority that the proposed development cannot be brought forward on a combination of more central sites.