The presumption in favour of sustainable housing development, contained within the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), is a powerful one – but it does not have the force of statute and can be overcome. The Court of Appeal made that point in blocking plans for up to 150 new homes on green land adjoining a market town.
The would-be developer had been refused planning consent by the local authority, but was granted permission after a successful appeal to a government inspector. The latter found that the project would be sustainable and that the social and economic benefits would outweigh any harm to the open countryside.
The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government did not seek to defend the inspector's decision and the council's challenge to the permission was upheld by a judge. In quashing the consent, he ruled that the inspector had been wrong to describe the presumption as a ‘golden thread’ running through the NPPF.
The phrase only appeared once in the NPPF and it was wholly misconceived to treat it as justifying the broad approach that the inspector took. The presumption was a statement of planning policy, not a statute, and did not carry the same weight as Section 38(6) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004. That provision requires that planning decisions be made in accordance with local development plans unless material considerations indicate otherwise.
In rejecting the developer’s appeal against the judge’s ruling, the Court noted that the council had in place a five-year supply of housing land. The proposals also conflicted with three local plan policies which discouraged further extension of the town into the countryside. The inspector's error in interpreting the NPPF went to the heart of his decision and the planning permission had to be quashed.