Appeal Decision Hearing held on 2 August 2017
Site visits made on 1 and 2 August 2017
by Caroline Mulloy BSc (Hons) DipTP MRTPI
an Inspector appointed by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government
Decision date: 29th September 2017
Appeal Ref: APP/C2708/W/17/3166843 Land to the West of Holme Lane, Sutton in Craven
The appeal is made under section 78 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 against a failure to give notice within the prescribed period of a decision on an application for outline planning permission.
The appeal is made by Snell Developments Ltd against Craven District Council. The application Ref 66/2016/17442, is dated 7 October 2016.
The development proposed is outline planning application for the erection of circa 32 no. dwellings with means of access from Holme Lane and associated works
Decision 1. The appeal is dismissed.
2. The application was submitted for outline planning permission including details of the access. Details of layout, scale, appearance and landscaping were reserved for later consideration. I have dealt with the appeal on that basis, treating the indicative developable area plan as illustrative, except in relation to the access.
3. Additional plans were submitted at the hearing including cross-sections and graphics. The plans elaborate on detail contained in the existing plans and do not alter the nature of the proposal. Consequently, I consider that accepting the Plans would not prejudice the interests of the Council or other interested parties and I have determined the appeal on this basis.
4. A previous application for a similar proposal comprising 53 dwellings was dismissed at appeal1 on 26 June 2013 on the grounds that it would compromise the gap between Sutton in Craven and Glusburn and have an adverse impact in relation to the individual character and identity of the settlements, their overall character and appearance and that of the area generally.
5. The main issue is the effect of the proposed development on the character and appearance of the area and whether development of part of the Green Wedge beyond the settlement boundary is justified in the light of the supply of housing land and other considerations.
Reasons Character and appearance
6. The appeal site is an agricultural field of approximately 2.8 hectares situated between the settlements of Sutton in Craven and Glusburn. The land is currently set to grass and is used for the grazing of sheep.
7. The site lies outside of the development limits set out in the Craven District Local Plan (LP) (1999) and represents large scale development. Policy ENV1 of the LP seeks to avoid large scale development unless there is an overriding need due to the requirements of the utility services, transport, minerals supply or national security. Policy BE3 of the LP identifies Green Wedges and whilst it does not rule out development in Green Wedges in principle, it states that it will be resisted where it would compromise the gap between settlements. The appeal site forms part of the Green Wedge.
8. Notwithstanding the administrative boundary for Sutton in Craven Parish Council, Sutton in Craven and Glusburn are clearly distinct settlements. Indeed, the appeal site by virtue of its undeveloped and open character provides a clear physical and visual separation between the settlements. The tree-lined banks of Holme Beck provide a further visual barrier thus reinforcing the sense of separation. There are clear views into and across the site from Holme Lane and the public footpath on the western boundary. Views of the site are also glimpsed through the wooded embankment adjacent to Holme Beck. The open nature of the appeal site and adjacent land to the east provides an attractive setting for the respective settlements enhancing their individual character and identity. The appeal site, therefore, makes a significant contribution to the character and appearance of the area.
9. The submitted Landscape Assessment (LA) (August 2009, reviewed September 2016) identifies that the site lies within the National Character Area Profile 36 Southern Pennines and the semi-enclosed intermediate landscapes type within the Craven Landscape Appraisal (the Appraisal) 2002. In particular, the site lies within Local Type 10 Pasture with Wooded Gills and Woodland. The appeal site exhibits many of the attendant characteristics of this landscape type including pasture and deciduous trees and woodlands. The Appraisal identifies the character type as Landscape Quality 2 for conservation and reinforcement.
10. The LA recognises that due to the designation of the site as a green wedge together with the landscape character assessment the impact on the landscape character is potentially a significant issue. Parties agreed at the hearing that the landscape has high sensitivity to the development proposed and from everything which I have seen in submissions and on my site visit I have no reason to disagree.
11. The proposal would provide around 32 dwellings with the access from Holme Lane, public open space adjacent to Holme Beck together with a public footpath through the site. The LA recommends that the proposal should maintain the wooded beck, the two trees along the line of the western boundary and the single tree on the southern boundary. Additional planting is proposed along the beck to help mitigate the impact of the development. A new field hedgerow is also proposed along the site boundary to act as a buffer between the existing and proposed properties. Consequently, some features of the landscape character type would be retained.
12. However, the agricultural character of the site would change significantly to that of a residential urban nature. It would result in the loss of part of the existing field and pasture which are representative of the landscape character type. It would introduce substantial built development resulting in a significant loss of openness, a characteristic feature of the site. The proposal would result in a marked, permanent and irreversible change to the site itself and the immediate vicinity of the site.
13. The proposed development would only take up a small proportion of the total area of Green Wedge identified in the LP. The illustrative plans show that the proposed development would fill approximately 40% of the site. The beck and tree belt together with the area of open land to the north of the beck would provide a physical and visual barrier and parties agreed that the proposal would not lead to coalescence. An area of approximately 1.5 ha of public open space would be provided in the northern half of the site. Consequently, the appellant contends that the function of the Green Wedge would be maintained.
14. Cross sections and additional graphics were submitted at the hearing showing the extent of the retained Green Wedge post development ranging from 59m to 149m. Cross section A, shows the extent of the retained green wedge at 149m. However, the open space would taper to a very narrow point from the proposed road to Holme Beck to the south of the Hawthorns. Whilst the open land to the north of the beck would remain undeveloped, the sense of space on the south side of the beck would be significantly eroded. Furthermore, the access road and car park at the entrance to the site would contribute to the urbanising effect of the development when seen from Holme Lane.
15. The extent of the Green Wedge would reduce at cross sections B and C as a result of the proposal to between around 59-122m. Development would be situated alongside the church yard facing in towards the beck. Whilst the proposed development would not have significant depth at this point it would be situated in an elevated position and would, therefore, be highly visible from Holme Lane.
16. Although I appreciate that part of the development would be tucked away adjacent to Hazel and Cedar Grove at cross sections D and E due to the elevated topography the northern extent of development would be readily apparent and would visually enclose the site. Development would be highly visible from the footpath to the west of the site. Furthermore, the houses on the Hawthorns extend virtually up to the beck reducing the extent of Green Wedge on the northern side.
17. Parties agree that long distance views of the site would be limited due to the topography of the surrounding area and due to existing built development and vegetation. The steep wooded southern bank of the Holme Beck would obscure views of the proposal to a degree from the footpath along the northern bank. The proposal would be more apparent in winter, although additional planting could reinforce the twig density and minimise the potential for views.
18. The LA suggests that tree planting on the embankment and along the access road would provide a screen to the proposed development on higher ground to the west and help to soften the built form of development in the central portion of the site, mitigating and perceived adverse effects on visual amenity. It also states that the inclusion of public open space could enhance the overall appearance of the area and more than off-set the loss of part of the open space.
19. However, even taking into account the proposed planting the development would result in a significant deterioration in views in the immediate vicinity of the site, particularly from Holme Lane. The elevated position of development on the valley sides would render the development highly visible and compound the visual sense of enclosure resulting in a loss of openness. The proposal would also be highly visible from the footpath to the west of the site which is well-used by local residents. Pedestrians/residents would be highly sensitive to the significant deterioration in views in these locations. From these perspectives the openness of the site and the gap it maintains between the built-up areas would be substantially reduced.
20. Overall, whilst the beck and tree belt together with the area of open land to the north of the beck would provide a physical and visual barrier, the significant reduction in the gap would, nevertheless, have a significant adverse effect on the sense of space between the settlements. Furthermore, I consider that the proposed planting in the car park and within the open space would further reduce the openness of the site. Consequently, I consider that the LA overplays the role of the public open space and additional planting in mitigating the adverse effects of the development.
21. For the reasons stated, I consider that the development would compromise the gap between Sutton in Craven and Glusburn and would significantly undermine the individual character and identity of the settlements. It would have a significant adverse effect on their overall character and appearance and that of the area generally.
22. The proposal would include around 1.5ha of public open space on-site including a natural play area. A sum of £25,000 as an off-site contribution towards improving the quality of an identified local deficiency is also proposed. However, there is already a substantial and well equipped public park in close proximity to the site. Whilst the off-site contribution would be a moderate benefit, the provision of onsite open space would be a policy requirement.
23. A footpath is proposed through the site linking into the wider network of footpaths and it is also proposed to facilitate improvement works to the existing footpath to the north of Holme Beck. However, there are already a number of public footpaths in the locality providing access to the countryside including the footpath on the opposite side of Holme Beck. Whilst this footpath is narrow in places, it is clearly passable and provides a safe and pleasant route, opening out to give access to the side of the beck. These factors limit the weight which I attach to this benefit in my Decision.
24. The appellant considers that the proposal offers opportunities for ecological enhancement across the site which would be a benefit of the scheme. However, any ecological benefits would be off-set by the increased activity which would arise and a significant proportion of the site being taken up by development.
25. A public car park is proposed within the site to allow users of the nearby park and primary school safe parking which the appellant considers provides additional benefits to the community. However, there is no evidence of the need for a car park at the site and in any event I consider that the proposed area of hardstanding would detract from the rural character of the site.
26. Whilst there may be some improvement to the drainage situation along Holme Lane as a result of works undertaken in association with the proposed development, this would not be sufficient to off-set the substantial harm which I have identified.
27. For the reasons stated, I conclude that the proposed development would compromise the gap between Sutton in Craven and Glusburn and would constitute large scale development beyond the settlement boundary. It would have a significant adverse effect on the individual character and identity of the settlements, their overall character and appearance and that of the area generally. It would, therefore, be contrary to Policies BE3 and ENV1 of the LP.
28. I have had regard to the indicative plans of the proposal in reaching this conclusion. Moreover, it appears to me that it would not be possible to develop the site for around 32 dwellings in any other way without causing similar harmful effects on the gap and the character and appearance of the area.
29. The appellant contends the appeal proposal maintains a greater extent of the Green Wedge than the previous proposal2 and that the proposal maintains the function and purpose of the Green Wedge designation. The number of dwellings would be reduced from 53 to around 32 and the residential built form of the site would be reduced from 66% in the previous proposal to 43% of the total site area in the current appeal proposal. Whilst the remaining area of green gap would be greater than that contained in the previous appeal proposal the reduction in the net developable area would be marginal as shown on the plan entitled ‘2017 proposals with section lines’. Furthermore, due to the topography of the site the proposed development would enclose the site and reduce the sense of spaciousness. Consequently, the purpose and function of the Green Wedge would be significantly diminished. The development would also harm the setting of Sutton in Craven. The proposal has not, therefore, altered sufficiently to warrant a different conclusion to the previous Inspector.
30. The appellant is proposing 40% affordable housing and a contribution to improving the quality of an identified public open space deficiency. The Council have suggested conditions to cover these matters and the appellant considers that a Section 106 agreement could be submitted at a later date as part of a discharge of conditions application. I note that these requirements are not disputed by the appellant. As I am dismissing the appeal for other reasons, I have not addressed these matters in any further detail. Nevertheless, I attach significant weight to the proposed affordable housing as a benefit of the scheme and moderate weight to the off-site open space contribution.
31. The Council has not raised concerns regarding the effect of the proposal on the Conservation Area and from everything which I have seen in submissions and on my site visit; I have no reason to disagree. I am, therefore, satisfied that the proposal would preserve the character and appearance of the Conservation Area.
32. I have had regard to issues regarding flood risk, drainage and sewerage including the additional written and verbal evidence provided at the Hearing. Whilst I do not underestimate the genuine concerns of local residents and organisations, I note that the Council, the Environment Agency and Yorkshire Water do not raise objections subject to the imposition of appropriate conditions. On this basis, I am satisfied that subject to those conditions, the proposed development would not have an adverse effect in terms of flood risk, drainage and sewerage.
33. Paragraph 49 of the National Planning Policy Framework (the Framework) states that relevant policies for the supply of housing should not be considered up to date if the local planning authority cannot demonstrate a five year supply of housing sites. Paragraph 59 of the recent Supreme Court judgment3 of 11 May 2017 makes it clear that the primary purpose of paragraph 49 is to trigger the operation of the tilted balance in paragraph 14 where the Local Planning Authority cannot demonstrate a five year supply of deliverable housing sites.
34. The Council submitted a Five Year Housing Land Supply and Report (May 2017) which it considers shows that the Council has a five year supply of housing land equivalent to 5.49 years. The appellant contends that the Council cannot demonstrate a five year supply of housing and relies on a report by Regeneris (May 2017) in support of their case which concludes that the five year land supply is equivalent to 3.5 years. The parties submitted an updated Statement of Common Ground (31 July 2017) in relation to five year housing land supply at the hearing. On the basis of this most recent position the Council consider that it has a housing land supply equivalent to 5.28 years and the appellant’s position remains the same at 3.5 years.
35. Discussion took place at the hearing regarding a number of issues regarding objectively assessed need and housing supply. These include the proportion of objectively assessed need allocated to the National Park part of the District and the contribution from eight sites with either planning permission or a resolution to grant planning permission, subject to a Section 106 obligation which the appellant considers are overly optimistic. The appellant considers that the Council’s affordable housing requirement is proving a barrier to delivery. However,the evidence before me on these matters is limited. Overall, I find the evidence relating to housing land supply to be inconclusive.
36. The LP was adopted some time ago and made provision for housing only up to 2006. Policy ENV1 seeks to protect the character and quality of the open countryside from being spoilt by sporadic development by defining development limits. The Council acknowledge that the development limits referred to in the Policy and set out on the proposals map are out-of-date due to the age of the Plan and that as a result only limited weight can be attached to it. Nevertheless, the Policy also seeks to protect the character and quality of the open countryside which is consistent with the Framework. Consequently, some weight can be attached to the Policy, albeit limited.
37. Attention is drawn to a number of appeal decisions4 relating to cases where Inspectors have concluded that policies which are similar to Policy BE3 are policies for the supply of housing and, therefore, out of date. However, whilst this may be the case, the Framework does not prescribe the weight to be given to policies in a plan which are ‘out of date’. Weight is a matter of planning judgement for the decision maker and I have assessed the weight to be attached to the Policy on the basis of evidence provided to me before and during the Hearing in relation to this specific case.
38. The supporting text to Policy BE3 states that the intention behind the Policy is to strengthen and enhance the spaces between settlements which are in relatively close proximity to each other, in order to maintain their individual character and identity. This fundamental objective to restrict coalescence and protect setting is consistent with the core principle in the Framework to recognise the role and character of different areas. Due to the degree of consistency with the Framework, I consider that significant weight can be attached to Policy BE3 in my Decision in accordance with paragraph 215 of the Framework. There is no dispute between the parties that only limited weight can be given to draft Policy ENV13 of the emerging Local Plan.
39. As I find the evidence before me relating to housing land supply to be inconclusive I have adopted a precautionary approach on the basis that five year supply has not been demonstrated.
40. The proposal would contribute to housing supply, including affordable housing. It would also have some economic benefits in the short term during the construction phase and in the longer term as occupiers would support local businesses. It would also make an off-site contribution towards improving the quality of an identified local deficiency. These factors weigh in favour of the proposal.
41. On the other hand, I have concluded that the proposal would compromise the gap between Sutton in Craven and Glusburn and would constitute large scale development beyond the settlement boundary. It would have a significant adverse effect on the individual character and identity of the settlements, their overall character and appearance and that of the area generally. Conflict, therefore, arises with paragraphs 17 and 109 of the Framework.
42. Consequently, even if I were to conclude there is a shortfall in 5 year supply of the scale suggested by the appellant, having regard to the Framework as a whole, I conclude that the adverse impacts of granting permission for this scheme would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits. The proposal would not, therefore, represent sustainable development.
For the reasons stated and taking all other considerations into account, the appeal should be dismissed.