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Old Hunstanton Parish Council v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government [2015] EWHC 1958 (Admin)

DATE: 21 Jul 2015

The Planning Court has handed down judgment in Old Hunstanton Parish Council v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government [2015] EWHC 1958 (Admin), in which it quashed a planning inspector’s decision to grant permission for 15 affordable homes on a rural exception site adjoining the village of Old Hunstanton in West Norfolk.

Old Hunstanton Parish Council contended that the inspector had misinterpreted the relevant provisions of the West Norfolk Core Strategy. The housing needs register for the area identified 33 households, of which two were located in Old Hunstanton, and 22 were located in a nearby town. It was not lawful, the Parish Council argued, for the inspector to have treated housing need located in the town as justifying development in the village.

The Parish Council also argued that the inspector had failed to give adequate reasons for her interpretation of the relevant local policies.

Lang J upheld the Parish Council’s challenge on both grounds. Properly understood, the relevant policies of the West Norfolk Core Strategy provided policy support for rural exceptions housing only where there was a need for that housing in the immediate rural settlement, or in other small rural communities as defined by the old PPS3, where those rural communities were local to the development site. The judge described the rural exception site policy as “exceptionally, relaxing planning constraints on development in rural areas so as to meet the needs of small rural communities, not to meet the housing needs of neighbouring towns and larger conurbations.”

On the reasons challenge, the judge held that the decision letter was inadequate: it was not possible for the Parish Council to know or understand the basis on which the inspector had interpreted the development plan as she did, and this caused substantial prejudice. The judge added that: “more generally, it seems to me that an Inspector ought to give reasons for his or her conclusions on any fundamental question raised about the proper interpretation of a development plan policy, as this is central to his or her statutory duty, under section 38(6) PCPA 2004, to determine an application for planning permission in accordance with the development plan, unless material considerations indicate otherwise.”

A transcript of the judgment is available here.

Luke Wilcox appeared for the successful Parish Council.

Heather Sargent appeared for the developer, Hastoe Housing Association Ltd.