The Pickles Effect – Forest Heath throws out planning application in Newmarket

June 2, 2010 by  

BBC Look East carried a story tonight with presenters in Suffolk and in London stating that this was the first planning test of the Coalition Agreement ‘s declaration that the RSS housing targets would be abolished and the controversial letter that was issued by Eric Pickles on 27 May to all council chief planners in the UK.

Tonight BBC Suffolk carries the decision at

Here is an extract of  Forest  Heath District Council’s Report Update to Members dated 1 June including Counsel’s Opinion 

Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has issued a letter dated 27th May 2010 addressed to all Council Leaders. This is also enclosed with this update. The letter sets out the coalition government’s intention to abolish Regional Spatial Strategies “rapidly”. Your Officers have sought Counsel advice on the implications of this letter, in respect of its impact upon the proper determination of the Hatchfield Farm application, and what material weight can be attached to the letter.

The opinion advises that “the policy support for housing development at Hatchfield Farm is no longer something that is ‘just’ based on Regional Strategy: this is not the case, for example, where a council has rather out of date development plan documents but a high unmet demand for housing provision based on the (shortly to be abolished) Regional Strategy.

In Forest Heath’s case there is a specific, extremely up to date, locally approved part of the statutory Development Plan documentation which expressly supports the principle of development at Hatchfield Farm. I refer of course to the freshly adopted Core Strategy, a planning policy document produced by the Council itself, which has gone through the statutory process. While it is of course fair to say that that policy document was produced against the background of regional strategy and numerical allocation requirements which prevailed at the time, it is still a very recently (and locally) approved part of the formal statutory development plan.

I am not aware of the new Government having said anything about an intention to ‘unpick’ locally approved development plan documents. Accordingly, as a matter of professional judgement I would have to say that, even with the new Government’s policy announcement about regional strategies, I would not expect the Council to be successful in upholding on appeal a refusal based either (or both) on the review of targets etc. which it has just ordered, or on the impending disappearance of the Regional Strategy which underlay elements of the Council’s Core Strategy. Things have gone too far at Forest Heath for matters like that to be a tenable basis for a refusal being upheld, in the face of the new Core Strategy itself, which can be seen as specifically supporting the principle of the development.

However, Counsel does advise on one further potential hypothetical argument as a result of the Secretary of State’s letter, albeit “it is not the view which I would professionally advise.”

“What it would involve would be arguing that the whole recent process leading to the Core Strategy was totally predicated on the need to meet the numerical requirements of the relevant regional strategy; the new Government has now indicated that it is wrong for councils to have these requirements imposed on them from on high, and is committed to abolishing that system. Local Planning Authorities and the Inspectorate have been asked to have regard to this change of stance by the Government in current decision making – and that is what the Council is doing here. To this extent the aspects of the new Core Strategy which were based on the discredited Regional Strategy should be discounted. But the Council is not just ‘sitting on its hands’ and hoping the problem will go away. Immediately after the change in Government, and at the same time as feeling obliged to adopt the Core Strategy which it had previously promoted, once that had been approved by the Inspector, the Council set in train a review process aimed at establishing appropriate new housing targets etc. on a local basis. So it would be wrong in these circumstances, at this time, to approve large scale development at Hatchfield Farm, even though it might appear to be consistent with the Core Strategy.

If a set of arguments like that can be mounted, with the addition of various other important matters not yet having been satisfactorily resolved, in my view that could be seen as amounting to at least a valid and arguable basis for refusal now – whatever might be the eventual decision on an appeal.

Members will note the advice that this latter argument is not one which Counsel professionally endorses but it is a matter which Members should have regard to in reaching a decision.

According to this web site   

“The 1,200-home scheme called Hatchfield Farm near Newmarket was turned down last week by Forest Heath council, in part on the basis of Pickles’ letter.”

A statement by Forest Heath said that “in view of this [Pickles’ letter] and in advance of our forthcoming review of housing figures, it would be inappropriate to approve this application.”

Furthermore up to 40 councils have taken action to halt schemes, change planned housing numbers or delay planning inquiries since the government wrote to them two weeks ago effectively telling them to ignore regional plans, according to the House Builders Association (HBA).



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