CO/452/2017 Richborough Estates Limited & Ors v Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government – WMS 

The High Court ruling issued earlier this month dismissed the challenge made by a number of developers against the Written Ministerial Statement (WMS) made by Gavin Barwell (‘the Minister’)12 December 2016. The WMS gives more weight to neighbourhood plans where a local planning authority does not have a five-year housing supply.  The Minister observed that such plans have an importance in meeting new housing needs and stated that they should be respected by a District Council, adding that where a planning application conflicts with a Neighbourhood Plan that is in force, planning permission should not normally be granted.

Under the National Planning Policy Framework (the Framework) if a local planning authority cannot demonstrate a five-year supply of deliverable housing sites, relevant policies for the supply of housing should not be considered ‘up-to-date’, and housing applications should be considered in the context of the presumption in favour of sustainable development. This meant that housing related policies in recently made neighbourhood plans could be given significantly less weight in planning decisions, where the local planning authority cannot show a five-year supply of housing. 

The WMS contained measures to protect the weight of neighbourhood plans in these circumstances. 

This WMS outlined that relevant policies for the supply of housing in a neighbourhood plan, should not be deemed ‘out-of-date’ under Paragraph 49 of the Framework where: the written ministerial statement is less than two years old, or the neighbourhood plan has been part of the development plan for two years or less; the neighbourhood plan allocates sites for housing; and where the local planning authority can demonstrate a three-year supply of deliverable housing sites. This gives Neighbourhood Plans some additional leeway, protecting their position where the Council is only able to meet some, but not all, of its objectively assessed housing need.

In the context of the Farleigh Fields planning appeal, the Parish Council and North Somerset argued that the Backwell Neighbourhood Plan fulfilled each of the necessary criteria and, as such, should be afforded full weight in the decision making process. It was further argued that even if the BNP was not considered to fulfil each and every one of the criteria required by the WMS, it was nevertheless up to date and provided for housing in a permissive way that is consistent with meeting greater housing needs. 

National Planning Policy Guidance subsequently updated on 10 August 2017 also supports the WMS.

The High Court judgement enables Councils and planning inspectors on appeal to afford more significant weight to neighbourhood plans in a situation where there is a housing land shortage.  Forthcoming revisions to the National Planning Policy Framework will also give the government an opportunity to put the government’s neighbourhood planning policy on a more stable basis. 

JSP – update and overview

As a formal statutory Local Plan for the period 2016 to 2036 the JSP will, in due course, carry significant weight and be used to inform key planning decisions. The JSP won’t replace the Council’s local plans. However, it will provide the overall spatial strategy and level of housing and employment land to be provided in the period 2016 to 2036.

 The JSP will also identify the strategic infrastructure, including transport, required to deliver the development needs identified.

Across the West of England area, 12 towns and villages have been pinpointed as ‘strategic development locations’ which will take ‘large scale developments’. In North Somerset this includes involves Backwell, as well as Nailsea, Banwell and Churchill.

The draft JSP proposes the following for Backwell:

700 Homes including affordable housing

Roads Improvements are needed, including on Station Road

1 additional primary school

 Backwell Parish Council has been actively engaged throughout the JSP process and have provided representations to the draft JSP.

 The JSP will be subject to minor modifications as a result of the consultation process and feedback received. The JSP will now be sent to the Secretary of State to be examined. Public hearings will now be organised by a planning inspector, and they may propose amendments. Once satisfied that the plan meets all planning rules and laws, the plan will be adopted, giving it statutory authority. The plan will guide the Council through developing housing plans in the area. At that point the approved JSP would sit above and guide the review of the Council’s Local Plan.

Backwell Parish Council will provide regular updates on the progress of the JSP. It will also communicate outcome of the Farleigh Fields decision once known and keep the community updated on the other planning applications submitted within Backwell.