Two appeal decisions in South Oxfordshire have confirmed the importance of Neighbourhood Plans.
The first of these was for a development of 95 houses on a site off Kennylands Road, Sonning Common. The Sonning Common Neighbourhood Development Plan (SCNDP) had allocated 26 houses for the site. The Inspector considered a number of factors in reaching his decision to reject the application but they came down to two points: (1) was the proposal to build on the site consistent with the SCNDP, and (2) would the proposal affect the character and appearance of the countryside.
This decision goes to the heart of what is good about Neighbourhood Plans and the efforts by the community not only to bring one into force but also to keep it up-to-date. In talking about the NDP, for example, the Inspector says that "It takes forward the shared vision of the community for the neighbourhood area....at its heart is the key issue of how many new homes should be built in the village, what kind of homes they should be and where they should be built." In other words the Sonning Common NDP has done the right thing for the right reasons and its wish to make a clear distinction between the surrounding AONB and the village is to be applauded. In common with many other NDPs the Sonning Common NDP provides for a substantial up-lift in housing numbers on the figures suggested by SODC. As the Inspector again said: "The strategy in the SCNDP, in my view, sets out a clear identification of where there is an expectation that development will go..." The Inspector also found that the site was an important landscape area and the development would conflict with the protection of what was an attractive landscape setting. Most importantly, the Inspector also clearly stated that he felt that guidance on what he should do was clear and that "where a planning application conflicts with a neighbourhood development plan that has been brought into force, planning permission should not normally be granted." I could not agree more with this statement and it is what I have been working to achieve.
Finally, the Inspector also made clear that the special arrangements I had helped bring in to tackle the situation where the District Council did not have a 5 year land supply and NDPs would need to rely on a 3 year land supply figure were to be followed.
The second case relates to Benson where I had successfully asked for a planning application for 180 houses to the south of Watlington Road to be called-in to be decided by the Secretary of State because I did not believe that it was right to decide this application when the Benson Neighbourhood Development Plan (BNDP) was so close to its definitive referendum. The Secretary of State has now decided not to allow the planning application to go ahead.
Of great importance in this case was the recognition that whatever SODC might be doing to undertake a review of all plans in respect of the EU habitats directive, the BNDP was still part of the development plan whether SODC chose to adopt the NDP or not. This was the very point I had confirmed with officials. Also crucially and this is worrying for SODC, its new 5 year housing supply figure may not be as strong as it claims although the Secretary of State considered the council can demonstrate something above 5 years. Just like at Sonning Common, the BNDP commits the village to a substantial amount of housing growth far in excess of the village's own requirements. Of crucial importance is the fact that the Secretary of State agrees that the proposal conflicts with the BNDP and should be given substantial weight. Again, using words similar to those used in the Sonning Common case, the Secretary of State concludes that "where a planning application conflicts with a neighbourhood plan that has been brought into force, planning permission should not normally be granted".
Both of these cases show how the Secretary of State and the Planning Inspectorate are supporting Neighbourhood Plans. Of crucial significance is the fact that where an NDP has been brought into force planning permission should not normally be granted which conflicts with it. That more than anything should give a great deal of comfort to those communities doing a Neighbourhood Plan.