Court Considers Green Belt Balancing Exercise in Gypsy and Traveller Pitch Planning Permissions

Citation: [2023] EWHC 3333 (Admin)
Judgment on

Introduction

The case of Noel McGinley v The Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities & Anor [2023] EWHC 3333 (Admin) primarily revolves around planning permissions related to Gypsy and Traveller pitches and enforcement notices. The central legal issues encompass the consideration of whether there was a five-year supply of Gypsy and Traveller sites, the delivery of such sites, and the Green Belt balancing exercise as per the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and Planning Policy for Traveller Sites (PPTS).

Key Facts

The case arose from two appeals which were conjoined, pertaining to the same decision letter by the Inspector who dismissed an appeal against refusal of planning permission and upheld an enforcement notice for land at The Beeches, Curslow Lane. The claimant sought review under ss.288 and 289 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, challenging the Inspector’s decision on the basis that it allegedly failed to properly consider the five-year supply of Gypsy and Traveller sites.

The Inspector found the development to be inappropriate, causing harm to the Green Belt due to loss of openness and encroachment. She also addressed other relevant planning considerations, including the landscape character and the site’s suitability for a Gypsy and Traveller site based on proximity to services and facilities.

Several legal principles emerge from this case:

  1. Green Belt Policy and Very Special Circumstances: Aligned with the PPTS and NPPF, inappropriate development in the Green Belt should not be approved except in very special circumstances. This principle was applied when the Inspector concluded that the proposal’s harm to the Green Belt and other harms did not outweigh the benefits of the development.

  2. Deliverability of Sites: The Inspector’s role included assessing the deliverability of the Gypsy and Traveller sites as per the Local Plan. Sites must satisfy criteria such as immediate availability, suitability for development, and a realistic prospect of development within five years, as noted in footnote 4 of the PPTS.

  3. Role of Local Plans: Local Plan figures are normally relied upon, as they have undergone thorough examination processes. However, such reliance is subject to scrutiny against more recent information, which the Inspector undertook concerning the deliverability of specific sites.

  4. Provision and Need Assessment: The Inspector evaluated the need and supply of Gypsy and Traveller pitches, referring to recent judgments such as Lisa Smith v Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities [2022] EWCA Civ 1391, driving the interpretation of the definition of Gypsies and Travellers in the PPTS.

  5. Weight of Material Considerations: Inspectors must give due weight to material considerations, a principle expounded in Bloor Homes Ltd v SoS [2014] EWHC 754 (Admin). The adequacy of reasoning is crucial to enable understanding of the decision’s rationale.

Outcomes

Permission to proceed was granted on all grounds for both the section 288 claim and the section 289 appeal. The central issues deemed arguable were whether the Inspector erred in concluding a 5-year supply of Gypsy and Traveller sites and whether the reasoning provided was adequate, especially concerning the deliverability of specific sites. The court highlighted that the outcome of the Green Belt balancing exercise could have been different if deliverability issues had been properly accounted for, thus affecting the overall planning judgment.

Conclusion

The Noel McGinley v The Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities & Anor case crystallizes the complexities surrounding planning decisions for Gypsy and Traveller pitches within the Green Belt. It underscores the importance of thorough analysis and clear reasoning when relying on Local Plan figures and interpreting policy guidelines on deliverability and need. The outcome signals to planning authorities and applicants alike the necessity for cogent evidence and robust justification in planning appeal decisions.

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