Very Special Circumstances demonstrated lead to Kent Green Belt success

January 3, 2019 12:02 pm 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 79 use class C2 extra care units within the Green Belt on a site adjacent to the built-up area boundary of West Malling, Kent 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 2014; culminating in the submission of an outline planning application in February 2017. TKP prepared the planning statement, sequential site assessment 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 on the basis of being inappropriate development in the Green Belt, failing to provide affordable housing and failing to provide the necessary contributions in the form of open space, and ecological impacts.

The appeal against the refusal was subsequently lodged in December 2017 with a request for the appeal to be dealt with via a public inquiry. Following an internal design review a revised layout plan prepared by Lloyd Bore landscape and ecology teams was submitted to the council in order to agree common ground and reduce the areas of conflict between both parties. This resulted in the ecology reason for refusal being dropped by the time of the appeal.

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 as such there was no requirement for affordable housing and that the open space contribution originally required was inappropriate and therefore needed to be reduced. These further discussions resulted in both of these reasons for refusal being dropped by the time the inquiry opened.

By the opening of the inquiry in December 2018 three of the original four reasons for refusal had been negotiated away with the council, resulting in the appeal resting on the principle of development within the Green Belt and the need for Very Special Circumstances. This was further aided by the council having recently concluded Regulation 19 consultation on their emerging Local Plan which crucially proposed to allocate the appeal site for development.

Within 12 days 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 and engaging with the council to agree on common ground for the appeal process.

The Inspector acknowledged that the level of need for such specialist accommodation for older people was seriously underestimated in the SHMA upon which the Council relied, most notably within the leasehold sector. Moreover, in addressing the belief by the Council that such schemes could come forward on sites allocated for general housing or as windfalls the Inspector noted that “because extra care developments need to be of a sufficient size to support the shared facilities they are unlikely to come forward on small sites or at that rate [20 or so a year].” This was factored in with the general lack of a five-year housing land supply, the benefits through the freeing up on under occupied family housing, the lack of a policy within the emerging Local Plan to ensure delivery and providing health and well-being benefits through relieving pressures on GP services to constitute the required Very Special Circumstances to outweigh the harm to the Green Belt by reason of inappropriateness and any other harm.

Tetlow King Director, Iain Warner, said:

“The granting of consent on this site represents the tireless efforts of the entire consultant team from start to end on this project. When the site was initially appraised the issues over Green Belt were made all too apparent to the client but nevertheless the opportunities for the site clearly spoke for themselves. The Inspector was equally convinced by the pressing need for such specialist developments as well as the specific circumstances of the site that made it suitable for development. The recognition of the challenges in finding sites and bringing them forward for such schemes, as set out in the supporting sequential site assessment, is particularly helpful given that all too often Council’s rely on the assumption that needs will be met from windfalls or through larger sites including an element of extra care. We are delighted that the Inspector accepted the overall merits of the case and found in favour of the appellant.”

TKP wish to thank Contact Consulting, Barton Willmore, Lloyd Bore, Thrive Architects, Broad Oak Tree Consultants, Transport Planning Associates, Thomasons, 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 and No5. Chambers.

A copy of the appeal decision can be read here