A planning inspector has allowed an appeal by Gazeley Ltd and granted permission for a major extension to Magna Park in Lutterworth.
The Lutterworth Magna Park is one of the largest strategic distribution centres in Europe. Gazeley applied for permission to build an additional 320,000m2 of strategic distribution warehousing, alongside the creation of a logistics hub including a new higher education institution (the Logistics Institute of technology), a HGV driver training school, and an innovation centre for small and medium enterprises. The proposal also included extensive areas of meadowland, and a heritage centre, to conserve and record the extensive history of the area (which includes a deserted mediaeval village Scheduled Monument within the application site itself).
The local authority, Harborough DC, refused planning permission on a single ground: severity of landscape impact contrary to a development plan policy. Subsequently, however, the local authority proposed the appeal site for allocation for strategic distribution, at the same quantum as that proposed by Gazeley. Following the proposal of the allocation, the authority abandoned the assertion of severity of impact; instead, its case at inquiry focused on an argument that the site could be configured in a different way, which would cause less landscape impact without reducing the scheme’s benefits. A large number of interested parties were also involved in the inquiry, focusing on heritage objections centred on the deserted mediaeval village.
The inspector (Neil Pope) held that, whilst the scheme would cause some landscape impact, as well as less than substantial harm to a number of designated heritage assets (including the deserted village), those harms were outweighed by the very substantial benefits which the scheme would deliver (including meeting a recognised national need for strategic distribution space in this location). As to the local authority’s proposed alternative scheme, the inspector expressed his surprise that the scheme involved moving development into the area associated with the Scheduled monument (which the application scheme kept free of built development), without having reconsulted Historic England (who had advised that the area in question be left undeveloped). It was also relevant that at no stage before the exchange of proofs of evidence had the council ever suggested that a better alternative may exist. Additionally, the LPA had produced no drawings, sketches or other illustrative material to substantiate its suggested superior alterative.
Overall, the public benefits of the scheme outweighed the conflict with the development plan and the identified landscape and heritage harms sufficiently clearly to justify the grant of permission.