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Council ends legal fight over permission for 133-home retirement village

South Oxfordshire District Council last month confirmed it has dropped any further legal challenges to a planning inspector’s approval of a 133-homes retirement village in Sonning Common, which the council had rejected as it would be in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

The council leader argued that planning inspectors’ discretion is too wide in deciding appeals in such cases.

South Oxfordshire said it made two unsuccessful attempts to challenge the planning appeal decision, and following legal advice decided not to pursue the matter.

Council leader David Rouane said: “We were disappointed in the judge’s decision at the latest hearing, and it highlights the problematic nature of planning legislation in that a huge amount of discretion and judgement is made available to planning inspectors – they have much more discretion than sits with locally democratically elected councillors in planning matters.

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“In this case the protection of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty has been at a single planning inspector’s discretion. We’re disheartened that our ability to challenge this effectively has come to an end, and feel we have done everything in our power to prevent an unsuitable development in the AONB.”

Last June, the inspector granted permission on appeal for a continuing care retirement community village proposal from developer Inspired Villages, which is part of the Legal & General.

DLP planning consultants, which worked with the developer, admitted the scheme compromised major development in the AONB, and Inspired Villages had also to demonstrate that the proposal satisfied both the ‘exceptional circumstances’ and ‘public interest’ tests in paragraph 172 of the National Planning Policy Framework.

It said the inspector had noted; “Planning policy and statute give equal protection to all parts of the AONB” but went on to observe: “I saw that the AONB in this location already contains a significant amount of built development. That contrasts significantly with the deep, rural area of countryside within the AONB.”

DLP said: “The appeal decision is important not only because it allowed major development in the AONB, but also because of its findings on the weight that should be given to the need/provision of specialist housing for the elderly, and its contribution towards five-year land supply.”

Mark Smulian

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