Everybody Needs Good Neighbours…

Just when you think Secretary of State decisions cannot get any more frightening, along comes Malmesbury (http://www.planningresource.co.uk/article/1311375/pickles-blocks-77-homes-draft-neighbourhood-plan-clash?DCMP=EMC-CONPlanningResourceDaily&bulletin=planning-daily). Has there ever been a Secretary of State (with whatever relevant prefix that related to planning at the time) that has issued such overtly political decisions seemingly in spite of all planning logic?

For those without access to the hyperlink, the synopsis is that an application for 77 homes in Malmesbury, that was fit to be determined against the NPPF-endorsed backdrop of no up to date development plan, and no five year housing land supply, has been refused because of conflict with a draft neighbourhood plan. The neighbourhood plan in question is not part of the development plan. It also has not been independently examined or the subject of referendum. But the SoS, in overturning his inspector, has determined that the absence of inadequate housing land supply is not sufficient to justify the release of the site at the present time.

This raises a number of important issues; the land in question is not Green Belt, and so there is no obligation to demonstrate very special circumstances. The presumption in favour of sustainable development is a key tenet of the NPPF, but has been seemingly discarded in favour of an unadopted (daughter) planning document. Once again the Planning Inspectorate has been undermined by the SoS, which weakens the appeal process considerably. And finally, with wonderful schadenfreude, a centralist intervention from the SoS has been used to apply the virtues of localism.

If it didn’t completely undermine the planning system including the principles of the development plan and the NPPF, economic recovery, developer and consumer confidence, it would be funny.

I’ve said it before and I’ll no doubt say it again: Please can we abolish Secretary of State decisions?

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