Local Elections in May changed the political balance in a lot of Councils and this is having an effect on Strategic planning and Development decisions.

Please read some of the latest news in our quarterly update below:

National Planning

The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill continues through Parliament and entered Report stage in the House of Lords on 11 July 2023.

Whilst the government announced that it intended to introduce planning application fee increases in summer 2023 there does not yet appear to be any draft legislation published so far.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) has confirmed that the publication of the revisions to the NPPF will not be published until September at the earliest and not until after the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill gets Royal Assent.

Local Plan Update

Central Bedfordshire Local Plan

Following the adoption of the Central Bedfordshire Local Plan 2015 to 2035 the Council have commenced a review of the Local Plan. A Report to Committee in February 2023 indicated that whilst internal discussions were underway there are external factors outside of the Council’s control that have an impact on the decisions that can be taken at this time. A further update report is expected to be considered by the council during September and October 2023.

Bedford Borough Local Plan

The draft Bedford Borough Local Plan 2040 was submitted to the Secretary of State in January 2023. An Independent Inspector has been appointed to carry out the Examination of the Local Plan. Examination Hearing sessions are currently in progress. Further information can be found on the Council’s webpages where updates and information will be published as the examination progresses.

Further updates on the Strategic Plans in Bedfordshire can be found on our website: Planning in Bedfordshire

Buckinghamshire Local Plan

Buckinghamshire must produce a Local Plan within five years of coming into being, that is, by April 2025. The Council consider that there is a limit to how much progress they can make until the government has confirmed the detail and timetable for the proposed changes. However, the early engagement questionnaire and call for sites is considered to give a good foundation for progress.

Milton Keynes Local Plan

The Council have commenced work on The New City Plan and have recently consulted on the Ambition & Objectives of the New City Plan.

Further updates on the Strategic Plans in Buckinghamshire can be found on our website: Planning in Buckinghamshire

Cambridge Local Plan and South Cambridgeshire Local Plan

The Greater Cambridge Local Plan: Development Strategy Update (Regulation 18 Preferred Options) was approved by the two Councils in January/February 2023. This report is a stage towards the preparation of a draft Local Plan and is not itself to be subject to public consultation. Due to continued work exploring water supply, and delay to the submission of the Cambridge Waste Water Treatment Plant relocation Development Consent Order, the Local Plan timetable will be updated. This will not be before September 2023 when they hope to have greater clarity on these matters.  Further information can be found here

Huntingdonshire Local Plan Update

Huntingdonshire District Council has commenced a full update to the adopted Local Plan. Further information can be found here. Responses from the recent consultation and call for sites will be assessed in view of the preparation of a Further Issues and Options document being published in Spring 2024.

Information updates on other Strategic Plans in Cambridgeshire can be found on our website: Planning in Cambridgeshire

Babergh and Mid Suffolk District Council Joint Local Plan

The Part 1 Babergh and Mid Suffolk Joint Local Plan is being progressed and Proposed Modifications were published for consultation in May 2023. Further Hearing Sessions were held at the end of June. The first public consultation on the Part 2 Local Plan is due in late Summer 2023.  Further updates can be found on the Councils website.

West Suffolk Local Plan

West Suffolk have recently reviewed the timetable for preparing the local plan and remain committed to progressing the West Suffolk Local Plan. They plan to consult on the final draft (Regulation 19 proposed submission) local plan in January 2024. Further information can be found here.

Information updates on other Strategic Plans in Suffolk can be found on our website: Planning in Suffolk

Uttlesford New Local Plan

Uttlesford are preparing a New Local Plan for the district. The Local Plan timetable has been amended with the draft (Regulation 18) Local Plan consultation due in Summer 2023. Further details can be viewed here.

South West Hertfordshire Local Plan

The responses to the draft Vision and Objectives are being analysed and the next stage of the SW Herts Joint Strategic Plan will be a ‘spatial options’ consultation, which will seek feedback on the appropriate amount and best locations for growth and is now expected in mid 2024. Further information can be found here.

Dacorum Local Plan

The next Draft Local Plan is in preparation by a Task Force with the final plan not expected to be adopted until October 2025.

Welwyn Hatfield Local Plan

The Welhat Local Plan Examination has been in progress for over six years. Following the recent Main Modifications consultation the Council are now undertaking an additional modifications consultation which is due to finish on 30 July 2023.

St Albans Local Plan

St Albans City and District Council is is progressing with the production of a Local Plan and the formal public consultation on key proposals is open until 25 September 2023.

Three Rivers Local Plan

Three Rivers District Council has recently undertaken a call for more brownfield urban sites for the possible allocation of homes for its forthcoming Local Plan.  Further information is available at https://www.threerivers.gov.uk/services/planning/planning-policy/new-local-plan.

Information updates on other Strategic Plans in Hertfordshire can be found on our website: Planning in Hertfordshire

East Northamptonshire

The East Northamptonshire Local Plan Part 2 is at Examination. The proposed Main Modifications consultation ended on 21st April 2023. The Inspector will now consider the submitted representations before finalising and submitting her Final Report. Details are available here.

West Northamptonshire Strategic Plan

West Northamptonshire Council is preparing a new strategic plan which will guide development for the area up to 2050. A Spatial Options consultation was undertaken at the end of 2021 and the Council are now considering responses. For more information visit the West Northants website.

Information updates on other Strategic Plans in Northamptonshire can be found on our website: Planning in Northamptonshire

National Infrastructure Projects

The preferred route announcement for the new Bedford-Cambridge section of East West Rail was made at the end of May. Public drop-in events are continuing to be held across the route during July. Further details can be found here.

The Development Consent Application for the A428 Black Cat to Caxton Gibbet Road has been approved and the appeal for judicial review was refused. The project is planned to move into full construction by the end of the year and the road is expected to open in 2027. Further details can be viewed here.

The DCO application for the Lower Thames Crossing project was submitted to the Planning Inspectorate. The Examination is in progress and must close by December 2023. Further details can be viewed here.

A DCO application for expansion of London Luton Airport was received by the Planning Inspectorate in February and has been accepted for examination. Further information can be found here. In the meantime, the decision by the Secretary of State for the application to increase the number of passengers is still awaited.

The DCO Examination for a proposed Energy Farm to be located across four sites in East Cambridgeshire and West Suffolk closed on 28 March 2023. The Examining Authority issued a Recommendation Report to the Secretary of State on 28 June 2023. The Secretary of State has three months in which to issue a decision. If constructed, the Sunnica Energy Farm will connect to the national electricity grid at the Burwell National Grid Substation. For further details visit https://sunnica.co.uk/

Anglian Water is proposing to relocate its Cambridge Waste Water Treatment Plant to enable the regeneration of North East Cambridge. An application for a Development Consent Order (DCO) was resubmitted in April and accepted for Examination in May 2023. More information can be found here.

Two new reservoirs are currently being planned in Eastern England by Anglian Water. One is proposed north of Chatteris and near the villages of Doddington and Wimblington, Cambridgeshire. More details are available at https://www.fensreservoir.co.uk/  The second site is south-east of Sleaford, Lincolnshire. This is expected to be submitted for a DCO in September 2025. To keep up to date with this project visit the website lincsreservoir.co.uk

Chilterns Beechwoods SAC

Dacorum BC and Central Bedfordshire Council now have mitigation strategies adopted and have released the moratorium on the grant of planning permissions, subject to the payment of Mitigation fees. The Buckinghamshire Mitigation Strategy is currently due to be published in July 2023. Click here for more information.

Recent Appeal Decisions

  • An application for 20 dwellings at Station Road, Blunham was dismissed (13 April 2023)
  • An application for 12 dwellings on Land West Of Pavenham Road Oakley was dismissed (11 May 2023)
  • Two applications for dwellings at Moor Street and London Road Rainham were allowed (22 June 2023)

A number of further appeals are pending including:

    • Land at High Street Meppershall (Hearing – date awaited)
    • Land south of Biggleswade Road Dunton (Written Representations – in progress)
    • Land at Linford Lakes Milton Keynes (Inquiry – 5 September 2023)
    • Land west of Moreton Road and Castlemilk Buckingham (SoS Call In – Inquiry – 17 October 2023)
    • Land North of Stockbridge Road Clifton (Written Representations – in progress)

Recent Planning Caselaw Updates

In the case of C G Fry & Son Ltd v Secretary of State for Levelling Up Housing and Communities [2023] EWHC 1622 (Admin), the west country housebuilder was granted planning permission in 2015 for some 650 homes on a site in Wellington, Somerset. Reserved matters approval for 190 of those homes was secured in 2020. In 2021, CG Fry tried to discharge several conditions attached to that reserved matters approval. Although the conditions did not go to the principle of development, based on the advice from Natural England, the Council withheld approval on the basis that a full Appropriate Assessment for the whole scheme would be required to test the scheme’s impacts on the Somerset Levels and Moors Ramsar Site. The refusal was appealed to the Planning Inspectorate. The appeal was dismissed. That decision was challenged in the High Court. The challenge failed and it is understood that there may be an appeal to a higher court. However, the case has clarified the following key points:

    • The European Habitats Directive continues to have direct effect in domestic law. Along with the domestic Habitats Regulations which implement the Directive.
    • Considering the Directive and this European caselaw and applying what the court called a “strict precautionary approach”, the Habitats Regulations continue to require competent authorities to conduct appropriate assessments not simply of the original decision to grant planning permission, but also in relation to subsequent decisions, including the discharge pre-commencement conditions or approve reserved matters.

According to the HBF, the cost of the High Court’s decision is the ability to develop some 44,000 homes which already have planning permission but cannot be implemented because there is no mitigation solution to achieve nutrient neutrality.

The High Court has dismissed a challenge to the Sizewell C DCO. In the decision R (Together Against Sizewell C Ltd) v Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero [2023] EWHC 1526 (Admin), the court found that two grounds were unarguable and five were “totally without merit”. One ground concerned whether water supply should have been considered part of the “project” for EIA. During examination, no permanent supply of potable water could be identified, and Northumbrian Water were to decide this as part of a future water resources management plan. The station could not be licensed and could not be operated without a supply. The court said that requiring provision or method of delivery of a utility company’s supply to be assessed as part of a “project” where a new supply has yet to be identified would lead to “sclerosis in the planning system which it is the objective of the legislation and case law to avoid”. The court found the approach did not involve “salami slicing” because the DCO was initially promoted on basis the utility company would provide a water supply.

In the case of R (Swire) v Canterbury City Council [2023] EWHC 1533 (Admin) it was claimed that the LPA failed to consider whether changes to infrastructure alleged to be key to granting outline permission were a change of circumstances requiring revised EIA or that the approval involved “salami slicing”. The court found the challenge unarguable as the infrastructure in question was not key. Furthermore, no condition was imposed at outline stage requiring this. The City Council was aware of the Claimant’s views at the time of the decision and the post-decision material submitted was not relevant to the rationality of the decision. On “salami slicing” the court found that the impact of the whole development was considered when the outline was granted.

The High Court was required to consider the NSIP and TCPA consenting legislation in the case of Durham County Council & Anor v Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities [2023] EWHC 1394 which concerned whether a proposal for a 49.9MW solar farm should be taken together with a previous project granted permission in 2020 with the same generating capacity and other infrastructure to fall in to the NSIP regime or whether this was a TCPA project. The court held that the question of whether development consent was required for the project as an NSIP was a matter the court could determine (rather than being reserved to the Secretary of State). The two projects shared a substation, but the court found that the cables and substation related to the projects were not part of the “generating station”. The court found that the new site was not part of the first because the projects were developed separately at different times, with separate distribution, connection agreements and metering. The projects could operate independently of each other and the common substation was really two substations – one for each project. The substation is for transmitting and distributing rather than generating electricity and the shared cables were to make the projects more efficient, not for interconnection. Accordingly, the court refused to declare the projects an NSIP.

The case of Faherty, R (On the Application Of) v Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council [2023] EWHC 1395 (Admin) involved a challenge to planning permission granted for the remodelling of a bungalow. The challenge focused on heritage matters and whether members considered advice of a conservation officer or whether the Council were misdirected as to this advice and whether reasons had been given for departing from this advice. The site immediately adjoined a conservation area. The conservation officer recommended that the application either be refused or deferred to allow for amendments to be made to the proposal. A heritage statement had been submitted and amendments were made to the proposal. No updated consultation response was received from the conservation officer, but the planning officer’s report concluded that the proposal would not be harmful to the setting of the conservation area. The Claimant argued that the report did not set out the conservation officer’s finding of harm or reasons why harm would arise. The Court held that there was no significant misleading of material matters – the summary of the consultation response was included and there was no need to annex the actual response or set this out verbatim.

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