Assets of Community Value – no horseplay, for now

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Back in 2016, we commented on the first  Asset of Community Value (ACV) case to reach the Upper Tribunal.  The case concerned green belt land included in the 2009 Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment as suitable for 110 homes.  It had been used informally by the local community for 40 years, and was listed as an ACV in 2014.  As a result, the land became subject to the ‘Community Right to Bid’ restrictions and the ACV status became relevant to planning decisions.  Banner Homes requested a review of the listing decision and then appealed to the First Tier Tribunal and later the Upper Tribunal, all unsuccessfully. 

Since then, planning permission has been refused twice (for a change of use to the keeping of a horse and for construction of a stable block), with those refusals upheld on appeal on both occasions.  Most recently, in January this year, St Albans City and District Council’s planning committee again refused an application for change of use to horse paddock, contrary to advice from officers.  However, the reason for refusal was that the site is located in the metropolitan green belt, and although “the impact on openness would be small, it is not demonstrated that very special circumstances exist”.  The Committee Report considered the land’s ACV status, but concluded that the development proposal was not inconsistent with that status, as local people could still use the footpaths, and would have the opportunity to make a bid to purchase the land in the event of a sale. This is rather different from the local intent behind the ACV listing – and the rationale for the Court of Appeal’s decision to uphold it – on the basis that the community use of the field beyond the footpaths could restart despite being fenced off (because the green belt status of the land made any alternative permission/ use unlikely).

The land is clearly very important to local people, but while its ACV status has prevented the land coming forward for development, it is worth noting that it has not been determinative in the planning decisions (nor more influential than the underlying green belt status).  The current position therefore perhaps demonstrates the impact of a well organised community group, and supportive planning committee members, alongside the ACV regime itself, in dealing with planning applications on ACV land.   

The land is being promoted for 160 homes (including 50% affordable homes) as part of the Local Plan process.  The expiry of the 2014 ACV listing later this year is likely to tigger a re-consideration of the question of whether there is a realistic prospect that the wider field could be used by the community in the near future.