Care village approved in the countryside contrary to development plan policies

October 16, 2019 10:44 am Published by

Tetlow King Planning (“TKP”) is delighted to have been lead consultants and part of a team who secured outline planning consent for Retirement Villages, on appeal for up to 65 use class C2 extra care units on a site adjacent to the built-up area of Lower Shiplake, South Oxfordshire following refusal of the application by the Local Planning Authority.

TKP initially promoted the site on behalf of Retirement Villages through the Call for Sites for development, a process which has been ongoing since 2015; culminating in the submission of the first outline planning application in October 2016. TKP prepared the planning statement and managed the consultant team during the application process. Following a prolonged period of consultation, the application was refused under delegated powers in November 2017. This was initially appealed,  however that was withdrawn in favour of the submission of a revised application in September 2018 which was subsequently refused in December 2018. The application was refused on four reasons relating to contrary to spatial strategy and an unsustainable location, highway access concerns, countryside harm and lack of infrastructure including no affordable housing.

The appeal against the refusal was then lodged in January 2019 with a request for the appeal to be dealt with via a public inquiry. During the course of preparing evidence and prior to the opening of the appeal the highway reason for refusal relating to provision of a pedestrian footway was dropped, with concerns over the means of access and appropriate sightlines also conceded in full once the inquiry opened.

Further discussions with the Council, formalised through detailed heads of terms in a s106 prepared by Aardvark Planning Law resulted in the Council accepting that the development was a Class C2 use and that the scheme would secure the necessary off-site infrastructure.

Within 4 weeks of the inquiry closing the Planning Inspectorate issued the formal decision notice granting consent, bringing to a close more than 4 years of work promoting the site through the Local Plan, 2 outline planning applications and engagement with the Council to agree on common ground for the appeal process.

One of the key issues debated at the appeal was whether or not the requirements of the affordable housing policy were applicable to extra care developments once accepted as a C2 use. Despite previously accepting that it didn’t, the Council fought the argument that affordable housing was now required even though they accepted that the policy had never been tested on viability grounds. The Inspector agreed that the policy was not unambiguous or clear and had been interpreted differently in the past. He accepted that the scheme was correctly defined as C2 and therefore concluded that “It would be inappropriate to dissect the development into its constituent parts and conclude that one element triggered the affordable housing threshold.” He then reasoned that the extra care units were not dwellings for the purpose of the policy and instead constituted a C2 scheme in conjunction with the associated communal facilities. The result being that it was concluded that the affordable housing policy was not applicable to the appeal, following the previous approach of the Council. The Inspector concluded that the Council were able to demonstrate 3 years housing supply under the terms of the Growth Deal, nevertheless he considered that paragraph 11(d) of the NPPF and the tilted balance was engaged on the basis that the policies most important for the determination of the appeal were out of date.

Tetlow King Director, Iain Warner, said:

“The Inspector’s decision on the matter of proper application of the affordable housing policy provides a well-considered review of the evidence presented to him. It cannot be right that a Council interprets a policy consistently for several years, only to change that approach largely on the basis of political pressure to tackle affordable housing provision when recognising that it lacks the evidence base to support this. Furthermore, in this case the Inspector once again acknowledges that this type of development is capable of providing significant benefits that are capable of outweighing harm. When considering conflict with the spatial strategy the Inspector also appears to accept that non-standard housing development must be judged differently. Whilst in this case the Inspector concluded that the tilted balance did apply, which of itself is rare in light of recent appeals in South Oxfordshire, he ultimately concluded that if it didn’t apply the benefits would have still outweighed harm allowing for material considerations to allow the grant of consent for a scheme not in accordance with the development plan. This sends a positive message regarding the benefits that such schemes are capable of delivering aside from a significant level of need.”

TKP wish to thank Contact Consulting, Barton Willmore, Iceni Projects, Newsteer, KWL Architects, ACD, Transport Planning Associates, Quad Consulting, CgMs and Aardvark Planning Law for all their inputs as part of the consultant team to secure this very important consent. The clients Planning Director, Guy Flintoft, acted as a witness to explain how such schemes operate and the difficulties in securing sites. The case was successfully argued by Christopher Young QC of No5. Chambers, ably assisted by Howard Leithead.

A copy of the appeal decision can be read here