St Albans’ Green Belt housing scheme legal challenge rejected

The proposed site of Sewell Park development

The proposed site of Sewell Park development - Credit: Archant

A contentious scheme for 116 houses and a 72-bed care home in St Albans’ Green Belt will go back to the Planning Inspectorate after the district council suffered a second defeat in court.

In the latest development on Hunston Properties’ push to build to the rear of 112-156B Harpenden Road, the Court of Appeal has today (Thursday) quashed St Albans district council’s bid to have a High Court judgement overturned.

The council must now foot the interim £27,500 legal bill as a result of the decision handed down by Sir David Keene and Lord Justices Maurice Kay and Ernest Ryder.

The council’s appeal concerned interpretation of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), particularly policies on proposed residential schemes, and housing need figures.

St Albans has an out-of-date 20 year old planning blueprint, described by the judges as an “old style Local Plan”.

After Hunston was refused permission by a planning inspector, on appeal, to build the Sewell Park scheme, it successfully challenged that decision in the High Court.

The inspector had concluded that St Albans needed to meet a target of 360 homes per annum, as stipulated in the recently revoked East of England Plan, and accepted by the council as an interim objective.

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Hunston successfully argued that by adopting that figure, rather than a “need” figure of 688 new homes a year, the inspector misconstrued and misapplied parts of the NPPF which replaced the East of England Plan.

But the council then appealed against Judge Mark Pelling’s quashing of the inspector’s decision.

Following the Court of Appeal hearing on November 20, the judges criticised the Government’s new planning laws as “ambiguous”.

They said that while changes had been made to simplify national planning guidance by replacing over 1,000 pages of policy with about 50 simpler ones, this had “led to a diminution in clarity.”

And Secretary of State for Local Government Eric Pickles was called upon to “review and clarify” what his NPPF policy on the calculation of housing requirement figures “is intended to mean”.

In regard to Sewell Park, the judges said: “Such development is clearly inappropriate development in the Green Belt and should only be granted permission if ‘very special circumstances’ can be demonstrated.

However, the judges dismissed the council’s appeal, concluding that the High Court decision to quash the inspector’s ruling was correct, and that the scheme would have to be redetermined.

The council’s leader Cllr Julian Daly said although the appeal had been lost, “I feel we are in a stronger position as a result of this judgement”.

On behalf of Hunston, David Lane, principal of DLA Town Planning, said he looked forward to working with the council on Sewell Park, “to provide much-needed affordable and market homes”.