buildingIn upholding planning consents granted for two residential developments, the High Court has issued a stern warning to local authorities that important local planning decisions will be taken out of their hands if they fail to make sufficient provision to meet future housing needs.

A council had challenged permissions granted by the Department for Communities and Local Government for two developments in its area, comprising a total of more than 250 new homes. Planning inspectors had ruled in favour of the schemes after noting a consistent shortfall in the provision of new housing in the area.

In dismissing arguments that planning policies had been misconstrued, the Court noted that, by 2012, more than 600 fewer dwellings had been completed than would be required on an averaged-out basis to meet the Council’s target for construction of 8,250 new homes in its area between 2001 and 2026.

The Council argued that additional houses would be built in future years in order to meet its target. However, in relation to the larger of the two developments, the Court noted, “The inspector was entitled to regard it as undesirable for a shortfall in earlier years to be left until later in the plan period to be made good and to hold that it should be made good earlier.”

Noting that the Planning Policy Framework called for ‘a significant and immediate boost to housing supply’, the Court found no error of law in the inspector’s approach. “Spread evenly over 25 years, there had been a persistent shortfall against what the inspector assessed to be the overall requirement, even including a period of boom years,” the Court observed.

The inspector’ decision in relation to the smaller of the schemes was also upheld as a reasonable exercise of planning judgment. That inspector had noted, “The Council has repeatedly failed to provide for the specific and identified housing needs of the district.

“In its submitted joint core strategy, it has adopted a housing trajectory which denies the past failures, and now seeks to aggravate this by seeking to significantly under-provide during the early years of the plan period. If found to be acceptable, this would become a self-fulfilling prophecy which would drive the supply of housing land even lower.”