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Harpenden Road Green Belt homes plan to be reconsidered, rules High Court judge
Plans for 116 new homes and a 72-bed care home on Green Belt land in St Albans have been revived by the High Court.
In a new ruling on the case Judge Pelling QC, sitting in Manchester, has given developer Hunston Properties a second chance at securing planning permission for the development on land in Harpenden Road, St Albans, near St Albans Girls School.
St Albans City and District Council and a Government planning inspector rejected the proposal as "inappropriate" in the Green Belt, but now Judge Pelling has ordered Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles to have the proposal - which also includes a new road and two tennis courts - reconsidered.
He found that, in rejecting the developer’s appeal against the council’s decision, the inspector used the wrong figure when assessing the future housing needs of St Albans.
In February 2012, the council concluded that the proposal and its scale was inappropriate development within the Green Belt, and that it would be unduly prominent. It found that the developer had failed to show "very special circumstances" to justify it.
But Hunston took its case to the Government, arguing that there was independent and objective evidence that St Albans needed 688 new households per year between 2011 and 2028, leading to a need for 3,600 dwellings within five years. In contrast, it claimed that the council’s identified sites could only deliver 2,183 dwellings - a significant shortfall.
Location of the plans
It argued that this shortfall constituted the necessary, very special circumstances to justify the development but the inspector rejected the appeal, finding that the appropriate housing target was only 360 dwellings per year, and that the council had enough sites.
Challenging that decision, Hunston argued that the inspector fell into error and both misconstrued and misapplied the National Planning Policy Framework when calculating housing need.
Quashing the planning inspector’s decision, the judge said: "I consider that the approach adopted by the inspector in this case was wrong in law. The proper course involved assessing need, then identifying the unfulfilled need having regard to the supply of specific deliverable sites over the relevant period.
"Once that had been done it was necessary next to decide whether fulfilling the need in fact demonstrated (in common with the other factors relied on in support of the development) together clearly outweighed the identified harm to the Green Belt that would be caused by the proposed development. Those of course are matters of planning judgment and are for an inspector not me."
He said that he did not see how it could be open to the inspector to reach a conclusion as to whether very special circumstances had been made out by reference to a figure that "does not even purport to reflect the full objectively assessed needs for market and affordable housing applicable".
The judge ordered the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to have the application reconsidered.
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