The High Court has upheld a legal challenge to the adoption of the Greater Norwich Development Partnership's Joint Core Strategy. This briefing considers the reasons for the decision and the possible implications for planning policy within the Greater Norwich Area.

How did this end up in the High Court?

The Joint Core Strategy ("JCS") was adopted by Norwich City Council and Broadland and South Norfolk District Councils early last year. The JCS provided for major housing growth in an area of Broadland lying to the north-east of Norwich ("the North-East Growth Triangle" or "NEGT") predicated on the delivery of a major new road linking the north of Norwich to the A47 ("the NDR").

A local action group opposed the decision to allocate the NEGT for such significant housing growth and challenged the decision to adopt the JCS on two grounds, both relating to the question of whether the proposals had been subject to proper environmental assessment.

What did the Court decide?

The Court upheld one of the action group's grounds of challenge, finding that the local planning authorities had not complied with the requirements of the Strategic Environmental Assessment regime because they had not properly considered alternative options that did not rely on significant housing growth in the NEGT.

At the time of writing this briefing we have not seen the judge's decision on the remedy to give, but we understand that he has ordered that the housing strategy for Broadland be reconsidered. This will involve the JCS being subject to further strategic environmental assessment before being re-consulted upon. The document will then have to be resubmitted to the Secretary of State for examination before it can be adopted.

What does this mean in practice?

This decision throws the JCS into confusion. It is clear that it is no longer adopted policy in terms of the housing numbers in Broadland, but the consequences for Norwich and South Norfolk are less obvious. The local planning authorities are likely to argue that the JCS is unaffected outside of Broadland, but it is hard to see how any discussion of changes to the housing strategy in Broadland can be undertaken without the need to re-examine the housing strategy across the whole of the GNDP.

It is a major blow for Broadland's five year housing land supply and makes it harder for the local planning authority to resist applications for housing development elsewhere in the distict. If the decision undermines the housing strategy in Norwich and South Norfolk as well, the same issue will arise for them.

The decision is also likely to have an impact on the GNDP's plans to introduce a community infrastructure levy ("CIL") in September. CIL requires an up-to-date development plan and given that the NDR, a key piece of infrastructure to be funded by CIL, is part of what now needs to be reassessed it is difficult to see how this timetable can be met.

Comment: This is an embarrassing decision for the authorities and will lead to delay that goes far beyond the JCS itself. The introduction of CIL is likely to be delayed and, in Broadland at least, it is impossible for the site allocations policy document to be put in place until the JCS is readopted. While landowners and developers will not welcome the uncertainty that the decision creates, it does offer hope to those who thought that their window of opportunity to bring forward development in advance of CIL or on sites that were unlikely to be allocated was closing fast.