On 23 September Eric Pickles granted approval on appeal to four major planning applications and the five year land supply issue was again a determinative factor in the decisions.

Councillors at Cherwell District Council had initially refused applications to develop 145 homes in Banbury, 70 homes in Hook Norton and two separate applications for 75 and 85 homes in Bloxham.  The applications were refused on the basis that the areas were unsuitable for development and the proposed sites were contrary to the policies of the Council’s Local Plan.

The refusals were then overturned on appeal by the Inspector, a decision that was upheld by the Secretary of State.

In each case the ministerial decision letter cited as material considerations the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), the Council’s emerging pre-submission draft local plan (PSDLP) and the revised housing land supply figures submitted by the Council to the Secretary of State for consideration.  However, none of these considerations went in favour of the Council.

Firstly, the absence of a proven five-year supply of housing land by the Council meant that, in accordance with the NPPF, a presumption in favour of sustainable development applied. In addition, the PSDLP (published by the Council in August 2012) had yet to be submitted for examination and was still subject to change, which meant that it was afforded little weight in the appeal considerations.  Similarly, the latest housing land availability figures used by the Council had yet to be subjected to independent examination with the result that they were also given limited consideration.

What do these (and other similar) decisions tell us?  Despite the aims of the localism agenda, developers have a strong case at appeal where planning applications are declined by local planning authorities that cannot demonstrate conclusively a five year housing supply with the appropriate buffer.  The onus is on the authorities to expediently produce local plans with up to date (rather than untested, emerging) figures for the five year supply requirement.  It should also be noted that, even where planning permission has been granted, local authorities still need to demonstrate the actual supply likely to be achieved in the five year period.

Lisa Cham