Planning Decisions Must Be in the Public Interest, Rules Court

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) advises local authorities to increase the supply of housing in their areas, to ensure local housing need is met, by identifying 'key sites' which can be used for housing development. Authorities are expected to identify suitable sites in order to deliver their housing strategy and to update their local plans annually to ensure that the housing plan is achievable over the next five years. 

When a developer applied for planning permission to build a housing development in St Albans, not far from the M25, St Albans City and District Council refused permission on the ground that the site for the proposed development was in the Green Belt. 

The developer appealed and the appeal was rejected by the planning inspector. The developer's appeal against that decision was upheld by the Administrative Court, which in turn led to an appeal by the Council. 

The planning environment in which the application was made was confused. The Council was found not to have kept its local plan up to date and the national guidance for the east of England had already been revoked. Furthermore, the Council had not identified key sites. However, the NPPF posits that development will be allowed in the Green Belt only when there are 'very special circumstances', and none had been identified. St Albans is surrounded by Green Belt land. 

The inspector's decision had taken account of the Council's evidence of housing need based on the now-revoked east of England plan, not on the NPPF criteria. The Court of Appeal ruled that, on the facts of the case, the Council had failed to take steps to prevent a shortfall in housing supply. 

In the absence of a current local plan, the Court concluded that the inspector's decision to reject the developer's appeal was flawed and dismissed the Council's appeal.n this case, the Court had taken the view that where the planning guidelines are not up to date or are unclear, planning decisions should be made in the public interest.


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