Borough council sees off statutory challenges to adoption of Local Plan

A Planning Court judge has rejected s.113 statutory challenges brought by two parish councils and a local resident against Guildford Borough Council’s adoption of its Local Plan.

The claimants in Compton Parish Council & Ors v Guildford Borough Council & Anor [2019] EWHC 3242 (Admin) opposed the principle and extent of land which the submitted Plan proposed to release from the Green Belt, as well as the allocation for development of specific sites proposed for release from the Green Belt.

A number of issues were presented before the judge, Mr Justice Ouseley. The first was: Did the Inspector consider and provide legally adequate reasons for his conclusion that the objectively assessed need for 10678 dwellings should be met in full, notwithstanding the consequent need for the release of land from the Green Belt?

The judge noted that there was no definition of the policy concept of "exceptional circumstances" for altering Green Belt boundaries. “This itself is a deliberate policy decision, demonstrating that there is a planning judgment to be made in all the circumstances of any particular case.”

Mr Justice Ouseley concluded: “This issue and whether a policy restraint should be applied to the OAN [objectively assessed need] was considered and the Inspector's conclusion that there should be no restraint below OAN was supported by ample reasoning.

The second issue, described by Mr Justice Ouseley as the major issue in the challenge and as permeating most of the grounds, was framed as: Was the conclusion that there were exceptional circumstances justifying the allocations of housing land, released from the Green Belt, to provide headroom of over 4000 dwellings above the 10678 OAN lawful, and adequately reasoned?

Mr Justice Ouseley said the challenge was to the scale of the headroom which it was said went beyond that level; the headroom should have been judged to be sufficient at some lower level, between 10678 and 14602, enabling fewer Green Belt releases.

On this issue the judge said he saw nothing illogical in the Inspector's thought process, requiring a buffer of some significance and treating the total of the allocated sites as creating an appropriate buffer. “There was no need to calculate a spuriously precise headroom figure, and then match it with sites.”

Mr Justice Ouseley added that having read the strategic and local-level exceptional circumstances, which had to be taken together, he had “no sense of having read something illogical or irrational, or which strained the true meaning of ‘exceptional circumstances’. I can see that a different approach to the quantity of headroom might have commended itself, but that was plainly a matter of planning judgment.”

The judge also found for the council on the other issues raised, including whether the Sustainability Appraisal and Habitats Regulation Assessment were lawfully undertaken.

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