Judge upholds judicial review against Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council’s local plan
20th June 2014
Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council’s local development plan (LDP) has been dealt a serious blow following a High Court decision to uphold a judicial review, by Lioncourt Homes and Gallagher Homes. The decision came as a result of the Council adopting a local development plan without establishing the regions objectively assessed housing need and re-designating two previously uncategorised sites as green belt.
Mr Justice Hickinbottom ruled that the Council had failed to take into account the "radical" policy change brought about by the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) in relation to housing supply.
Lioncourt Homes and Gallagher Homes both have interests in two sites in the Tidbury Green area of Solihull, which they propose developing with new homes. The house builders ran into difficulty during the adoption of the SLP in December 2013, when both parcels of land were designated as green belt.
As a result of this decision, any planning application for housing would have been refused on the grounds of NPPF [Para 87], in that ‘inappropriate development is, by definition, harmful to the green belt and should not be approved except in very special circumstances.’
The developers claimed, under section 113(3) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, by allocating the sites to the green belt, Solihull MBC acted unlawfully.
The two house builders also argued that in adopting a local plan which proposed building 11,000 new homes by 2028, Solihull Council acted improperly because the plan was not supported by a figure for objectively assessed housing need, as required by the NPPF.
Para 47 of the planning policy states ‘to boost significantly the supply of housing, local planning authorities should use their evidence base to ensure that their Local Plan meets the full, objectively assessed needs for market and affordable housing in the housing market area.’
In defence of its strategy, Solihull MBC argued that it had satisfied the requirements of the NPPF by adopting a figure, which it had derived from the DCLG projections and the 2009 SHMA through the now revoked West Midlands Regional Spatial Strategy (WM RSS), as there had been no significant change in demographic trends or policy since.
However, Mr Justice Hickinbottom disagreed, saying that the plan failed to acknowledge the major policy changes in relation to housing supply brought into play by the NPPF.
A Solihull Council spokeswoman said the local plan "was adopted in December 2013 following extensive consultation and a public examination". She said the judgement "has implications" for the document's policy, but added: "In all other respects the Solihull Local Plan will remain as the borough's adopted development plan."
The ruling now provides some clarity to plan makers that the starting point when preparing local plans is a requirement to establish the objectively assessed development needs of their region. Emerging local plans that fail to provide robust evidence, based on up-to-date strategic Housing Market Assessment, will most likely need to be withdrawn.
It is also a clear demonstration to Sutton Coldfield Rural of the threat to the Four Oaks and Trinity green belt and the lengths developers will go to achieve their overall goal in developing sites they have interests.
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