A Planning Inspector has dismissed an appeal made by Welbeck Strategic Land LLP against the decision of Wokingham Borough Council to refuse to grant planning permission for 118 dwellings in the countryside.
The Inspector found that the proposed development would cause very substantial harm to the character of the area and to matters relating to accessibility, and she found that these outweighed the benefits of the proposal.
Of most general interest will be the Inspector’s comments on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on housing delivery. The Appellant challenged the Council’s five-year housing land supply and evidence was heard on this at the inquiry. Following the close of the inquiry, the Inspector asked the parties to comment on any implications that COVID-19 may have in terms of their evidence on housing delivery. Both the Council and the Appellant did so.
On this issue the Inspector found that:
“108. Drawing the above points together, I conclude that in my estimation 811 dwellings should be removed from the trajectory. This means that the Council can demonstrate a 5.43 year supply of deliverable sites.
109. The Covid-19 pandemic is likely to have implications for the housebuilding industry as with other sectors of the economy. The evidence indicates that a number of developers are temporarily closing their construction sites to protect employee and customer welfare. For those remaining open, the lockdown will impact on the availability of support services. Customer confidence is also likely to be reduced with a consequent effect on the buying and selling of property.
110. The Appellant has concluded that the effects would be felt for a 3 to 6 month period, which does not seem unreasonable. On that basis the conclusion is that a further 168 dwellings should be removed from the trajectory to take these factors into account. Whilst it is contended that this is an optimistic assessment, it is equally possible that a bounce back will occur once the crisis ends. Indeed, it is reasonable to surmise that housebuilders and their suppliers will be keen to rectify losses if it is possible to do so.
111. At this stage the economic effects of Covid-19 cannot be known. However, even if all of the impacts suggested by the Appellant are accepted, the Council would still be able to demonstrate about 5.2 years supply of deliverable sites.”
This is the first Inspector decision to comment on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on housing delivery. It is clear that this general issue will be discussed in many planning decisions relating to housing developments, both now and in the future.
The full appeal decision can be read here.