Working in conjunction with leading Counsel, Jeremy Cahill QC of No.5 Chambers, Tetlow King Planning (TKP) was able to persuade senior Planning Inspector, Jessica Graham, to recommend approval of 200 houses and a 150 berth canal marina in the Green Belt to the Secretary of State, following a three day public inquiry held in July 2013. Unfortunately the Inspector’s recommendation was not ultimately accepted by the Secretary of State, who chose to dismiss the appeal, albeit still granting a full award of costs to the Appellant, the Ronald Wilson Trust.
The appeal related to a large 29 hectare site in the Green Belt on the edge of Bedworth, formerly the Hawkesbury Golf Course. The site sits adjacent to the Coventry Canal at Hawkesbury Junction. The original proposal included up to 200 dwellings, a 150 berth Canal Marina, allotments, community building and public open space.
After detailed discussions over many months, the planning officers of Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Council recommended approval of the application. Members initially supported officer’s recommendations and resolved to approve the application at Planning Committee; however it was subsequently called back to committee after a procedural error within the Council meant that local residents had not been notified that the scheme was to be discussed. At the second meeting the scheme was unanimously refused for the sole reason of impact upon the highway network. An appeal was made and at the same time a revised application submitted, reducing the number of dwellings to a maximum of 169. This second application was again recommended for approval but refused by members. This was also appealed and both proposals were considered at the same inquiry.
At the inquiry a compelling case was made setting out the very special circumstances for this large scale development within the Green Belt. These included that the Council’s development plan was not up to date and relevant; and that it was agreed that the Council could not demonstrate the necessary five year housing land supply required by the National Planning Policy Framework (March 2012). Jonathan Adams, Director at TKP, provided the expert planning evidence at the public inquiry to justify this major development within the Green Belt. He was assisted by highway consultants, Entran,who provided evidence that there was no justification for the highways reason for refusal.
The Inspector concluded:
“On balance, the benefits of both proposals would in each case clearly outweigh the harm. This would result, in both cases, in the ‘very special circumstances’ necessary to justify granting planning permission for development in the Green Belt. As I consequence, I consider that both appeals should be allowed.”
In considering the Inspector’s Report, the Secretary of State took a different view. He agreed with the majority of the Inspector’s conclusions, however placed less weight upon the benefits provided by way of the new open space, foot and cycle paths, allotments and community building. The Secretary of State ultimately concluded:
“Green Belt considerations apart, the Secretary of State sees considerable merit in both the appeal proposals. Whilst he considers that the decisions on both appeal proposals are very finely balanced, he considers that in both cases the benefits do not clearly outweigh the harm to the Green Belt”.
Despite the negative decision on the two planning appeals, TKP was successful in obtaining a full award of costs for the Appellant due to the unreasonable behaviour of the Council in failing to produce evidence to support its reason for refusal.
Jonathan Adams, Director at TKP, who coordinated the applications and appeals, briefed Counsel and gave evidence to the Inquiry, stated:
“It is satisfying to have persuaded senior Inspector Jessica Graham that the benefits of the proposal outweighed the harm to developing in the Green Belt and that on balance very special circumstances justified the approval of both appeals. It was however very disappointing that politics prevailed and that the Secretary of State did not accept his Inspector’s recommendations to approve both proposals in the Green Belt. I am very pleased that after all our efforts to address Members’ concerns over the impact of the schemes on the highway network, that the Secretary of State agreed with the Inspector and awarded a full award of the substantial costs for both appeal proceedings against the Council. It is highly unusual for the Secretary of State to award full costs against a Council on schemes that he refused. Overall, the Secretary of State’s positive comments gives us confidence that housing will be accepted during the emerging Local Plan process.”