A recent decision by the Court of Session has quashed a planning appeal refusal determined by the Scottish Ministers for failing to take account of the up to date local development plan. The case emphasises the importance of monitoring assumptions made as part of the planning process.
An application for planning permission in principle was made for a residential development of 600 units, including affordable housing, commercial space, a public park and a new primary school near Bridge of Allan.
When the application was submitted, Stirling’s Local Development Plan (“LDP”) did not allocate sufficient land for housing to provide a 5 year supply. As such, the relevant LDP housing policies would be considered out of date and Scottish Planning Policy (“SPP”) would apply. The SPP provides a presumption in favour of development which contributes to sustainable development as a significant material consideration.
However, the development was proposed on land lying within the North Stirling Green Belt and the LDP contained policies protecting the green belt from development.
The planning officer recommended the application for approval due to the benefit of the development outweighing the effect on the green belt; the SPP favouring sustainable development; the significant weight to be attached to the SPP which outweighed the policies of the LDP; and the impact of the development being mitigated by a proposed Section 75 Agreement and the imposition of planning conditions.
However, the application was refused on 23 March 2016. The Council determined that the benefits of the development would not outweigh non-compliance with the LDP and the proposed mitigation of the impact of the development on the greenbelt, flooding and transport would not be sufficient.
An appeal was submitted and was called in by the Scottish Ministers and a Reporter was instructed to examine and report on the appeal. During the appeal process, a new LDP was being progressed which sought to provide a sufficient 5 year land supply for housing. In his report to the Scottish Ministers, the Reporter made certain assumptions about the incoming LDP and stated that:
On the assumption that the proposed replacement development plan should identify sufficient sites, the land supply shortage may be resolved before development commences on site; … and … There is also an expectation that the proposed replacement LDP, currently under examination, will properly address the shortfall before any housing is built on this site if the appeal is allowed.
The Reporter estimated that the number of units which could realistically be provided by the proposed development within the 5 year land supply period would be 175 which was some way short of addressing the 896 unit shortfall.
The Reporter concluded that the development would only address the housing land shortfall in part; the harm to the green belt must be given considerable weight; that this would not be outweighed by the SPP presumption in favour of sustainable development; and to approve the development would be prejudicial to the emerging LDP which would set out the location of sufficient housing land for a 5 year supply. As such, the Reporter recommended refusal of the appeal.
However, when the LDP was approved for adoption on 3 May 2018 the new LDP still did not provide a sufficient housing land supply with a shortfall of 169 units. Despite this being brought to the attention of the Scottish Ministers in a report prepared by its officials on 17 May 2018, the Scottish Ministers issued their decision on 18 June 2018 refusing the appeal, stating that they accepted the Reporter’s recommendations and conclusions and adopted them for the purpose of their own decision.
By doing so, the Scottish Ministers adopted a decision which was based, in part, on a material consideration regarding the emerging LDP to provide sufficient housing land supply which had later proved to be incorrect.
The applicant appealed the Scottish Ministers’ decision to the Court of Session and Lord Carloway, delivering the opinion of the Court, determined that it was incumbent on the Scottish Ministers, as the decision maker, to take into account all relevant material considerations. In this instance, the Scottish Ministers in adopting the Reporter’s recommendation, had (1) taken into account a material consideration which had become irrelevant; and (2) failed to take into account a material consideration that the approved emerging LDP did not provide a sufficient housing land supply. Therefore, the decision to refuse the appeal was quashed. The Court of Session can only review the legal validity of the appeal decision and cannot substitute its own decision. It therefore falls upon the Scottish Ministers to reconsider the appeal. They will have to be more careful next time.