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Wealden District Council v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and Knight Developments Limited [2016] EWHC 247 (Admin)

DATE: 19 Feb 2016

The High Court (Lang J) today quashed an Inspector’s decision to grant planning permission for 103 dwellings on land at Steel Cross, Crowborough, following a challenge by Wealden District Council. 

The Council had argued that the Inspector fell into error in two respects. First, when concluding that the proposals would have no significant effect on the Ashdown Forest Special Area of Conservation (“SAC”) pursuant to Regulation 61 of the Habitats Regulations, the Inspector had found that contributions towards a Strategic Access and Management and Monitoring Strategy (“SAMMS”) would mitigate likely significant effects on the SAC arising from nitrogen deposition. The Council contended that this involved an error of fact, because SAMMS related to the mitigation of recreational impacts and not nitrogen deposition; and that the Inspector had failed in any event to have regard to evidence that proposed contributions to heathland management could not effectively mitigate any such effect. 

Secondly, the Council contended that the Inspector failed to take into account relevant evidence or acted unreasonably in his consideration of alternatives to development in the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (“AONB”), where the appeal site was located, pursuant to paragraph 116 of the Framework.  In particular, he did not adequately assess the alternative sites which were available, either within Crowborough or the wider district. 

Lang J held that:

  1. the Inspector made a factual mistake in assuming that heathland management to mitigate nitrogen deposits was part of SAMMS projects to be funded in part by the proposed contributions;
  2. even to the extent that there was a contribution to heathland management, there was no scheme for the reduction of nitrogen deposits by heathland management and the Inspector gave no or no proper consideration to evidence adduced on behalf of the Council which raised a number of concerns about heathland management as a means of mitigation;  
  3. whereas the Inspector accepted the Council’s argument that the search for alternative sites outside the AONB could extend beyond Crowborough, he did not adequately assess sites outside Crowborough; and did not properly investigate whether the development could be located within Crowborough either. 

Rhodri Price Lewis QC and Scott Lyness appeared for Wealden District Council;

James Maurici QC appeared for Knight Developments Limited, the developer.