Seedlings Property Limited v Secretary of State: Court Considers Planning Decision Appeal on National Policy Framework Interpretation

Citation: [2023] EWHC 3371 (Admin)
Judgment on

Introduction

In the case of Seedlings Property Limited v Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities & Anor, the court addresses a developer’s challenge to a planning decision. Mrs Justice Lang presides over the judicial review of a planning inspector’s decision to dismiss an appeal for non-determination of an outline planning permission application.

Key Facts

Seedlings Property Limited (the claimant) sought permission to build up to 14 self-build dwellings in Peterborough. After the local council failed to reach a determination, the claimant appealed, but an inspector dismissed the appeal. The grounds for dismissal included the development’s impact on character and appearance and considerations of whether a development plan policy was outdated. Subsequent refusal of permission for a statutory review by HHJ Worster led the claimant to renew their application, focusing on three grounds of contention.

The legal principles engaged in this case revolve around the correct application and interpretation of the National Planning Policy Framework (the Framework), the scope for judicial review, and case law precedent affecting planning decisions.

Paragraph 11 (d) of the Framework, a pivotal part of the contested decision, establishes a ‘tilted balance’ favoring sustainable development unless adverse impacts significantly and demonstrably outweigh benefits or specific policies offer a clear reason for refusal. The claimant argued that the inspector misapplied this principle, effectively inverting the standard in favor of refusal.

Additionally, the principle derived from ‘Hillside Parks Limited v Snowdonia National Park Authority [2022]’ concerns the deliverability of housing units in the context of planning permission sustainability. The interpretation of deliverability of housing land supply and the weight ascribed to local planning policies were also legal considerations.

Finally, the court examined rationality in attributing weight between different matters, a principle rooted in planning law that expects coherent and consistent reasoning from decision-makers.

Outcomes

Permission was granted on Ground 2, allowing the claimant to argue that the inspector misstated the test from the Framework and failed to establish whether most important policies were outdated.

Ground 3 was discarded, as the court agreed with the first defendant that the inspector did not err in law regarding the deliverability of Site Number 166.

Permission was refused on Ground 4, with the court finding no inconsistency or irrationality in the attribution of weight by the inspector concerning benefits of the proposed development versus planning policies.

Conclusion

The case elucidates the rigorous scrutiny of judicial review on planning decisions, particularly the interpretation and application of policies under the Framework. It underscores the need for precise articulation in decision-making and how misstatements or inconsistencies may open decisions to challenge. While leave was granted on some issues, establishing a legal error is a complex task, and the courts remain deferential to the expert judgment of planning inspectors where appropriate. This case further confirms that the principles from ‘Hillside Parks’ must be carefully considered in the context of housing land supply analysis within planning decisions.

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