As we review the progress of Q4 2023 and look forward to 2024, we are pleased to share a collection of local and national planning updates and developments. Discover the details in our quarterly update below:
The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill received Royal Assent in October 2023 and changed into the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023 (LURA). While certain provisions of the Act will come into effect on 26 December 2023, there remains a significant amount that necessitates statutory legislation, which we anticipate will be introduced throughout the course of 2024.
A new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) was published on 19 December 2023. Amongst the changes there remains a requirement for Councils with a Local Plan that is over 5 years old to identify a Five Year Housing Land Supply. However, a Council that has a Local Plan submitted for Examination only has to show 4 years supply.
The increase to the planning fees was introduced by the Town and Country Planning (Fees for Applications, Deemed Applications, Requests and Site Visits) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2023 and came into force on 6 December 2023. The former “free-go” is still available for all applications which were valid on or before 5th December 2023.
The 10% Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) requirement is applicable from January 2024. However, Biodiversity Net Gain for small sites will be applicable from April 2024.
Local Plan Update
Central Bedfordshire Local Plan
The review of the adopted Local Plan has been completed and on the 23 November 2023, Central Bedfordshire Council approved the Local Development Scheme (LDS) which includes a timetable for preparation of a new Local Plan. Informal public engagement will begin in April 2024 with an introductory event to launch the LP process. Non-statutory consultation on methodologies for site assessment and other technical evidence is programmed for September 2024 – October 2024.
Bedford Borough Local Plan
Following the Examination of the draft Bedford Borough Local Plan 2040 the Inspectors Post Hearing Letter has raised fundamental concerns about the soundness of the plan. The Council have advised that they will undertake further work to address the concerns. Further information can be found on the Council’s webpages.
Luton Borough Local Plan
Luton Borough Council is in the very early stages of the Local Plan Review. Their website page will be updated as the Plan progresses.
Further updates on the Strategic Plans in Bedfordshire can be found on our website: Planning in Bedfordshire
Buckinghamshire Local Plan
Buckinghamshire Council must produce a Local Plan within five years of coming into being, that is, by April 2025. Background studies are expected to be publishing during 2024.
Milton Keynes Local Plan
The Council have commenced work on The New City Plan. The Regulation 18 consultation is programmed for late summer 2024 with the Regulation 19 consultation following in early 2025. The Council propose to submit the Local Plan for Examination before May 2025.
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 is currently on hold, 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 following 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/early Summer 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
Part 1 of the Babergh and Mid Suffolk Joint Local Plan was adopted by Mid Suffolk District Council on 20 November 2023 and by Babergh District Council on 21 November 2023. A live online Policies Map supports the Joint Local Plan Part 1 and can be accessed here.
The first public consultation on the Part 2 Local Plan is due in Spring 2024. Further updates can be found on the Councils website.
West Suffolk Local Plan
West Suffolk are planning to consult on the final draft (Regulation 19 proposed submission) Local Plan in January- March 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 draft Local Plan public consultation (Reg 18) closed on 18 December 2023. Further details can be viewed here. The Secretary of State has now issued an Intervention Letter directing Uttlesford District Council to revise their Local Development Scheme within 12 weeks of the publication of the revised NPPF.
South West Hertfordshire Local Plan
A Technical Note – Establishing a South West Hertfordshire Settlement Hierarchy, has been published. All of the authorities have now endorsed the vision and objectives to guide future work. The latest news is here.
Dacorum Local Plan
A Revised Draft Local Plan consultation has recently been undertaken. The Council will now consider all feedback and prepare a summary Consultation Report for spring 2024 before a pre-submission version of the Local Plan is published in October 2024, in time for formal submission by mid 2025 with an updated timetable to ensure submission before the government deadline of June 2025.
Welwyn Hatfield Local Plan
The Welwyn Hatfield Local Plan 2016 was adopted at a meeting of the Council on 12 October 2023.
St Albans Local Plan
St Albans City and District Council is progressing with the production of a Local Plan. The Draft Local Plan 2041 Regulation 18 consultation closed in September 2023 and responses are now being considered. The Secretary of State has now issued an Intervention Letter directing St Albans City and District Council to revise their Local Development Scheme within 12 weeks of the publication of the revised NPPF.
Three Rivers Local Plan
The Council has recently consulted on Local Plan Regulation 18 consultation Part 4: Three Rivers’ Preferred Local Plan Lower Housing Growth Option – Protecting More Green Belt Land.
Information updates on other Strategic Plans in Hertfordshire can be found on our website: Planning in Hertfordshire
The East Northamptonshire Local Plan Part 2 was approved for adoption at the Council Meeting on 7 December 2023.
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 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 2023. A statutory consultation is now expected to take place in the first half of 2024. Further updates can be found here.
The Examination of the DCO application for the Lower Thames Crossing project closed on 20 December 2023. Further details can be viewed here.
The Examination of the DCO application for expansion of London Luton Airport was opened on 10 August 2023 and is expected to close on 10 February 2024. Further information can be found here. In the meantime, the Secretary of State has approved the called-in application to increase the number of passengers.
The Secretary of State has decided to re-set the statutory deadline for the decision on the proposed Energy Farm, to be located across four sites in East Cambridgeshire and West Suffolk, until 7 March 2024. 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/
The Examination of the Development Consent Order (DCO) application for the proposed Cambridge Waste Water Treatment Plant will commence on 17 October 2023 and will last for six months. Information about the examination period can be found on this page.
Anglian Water are currently planning two new reservoirs in Eastern England. 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 considered by Cabinet in February 2024. Click here for more information.
Recent Appeal Decisions
- An application for an entry level exception scheme of 16 dwellings on Land south of Biggleswade Road Dunton was allowed (10 November 2023)
- An application for 5 dwellings at Rectory Farm Great Addington was dismissed (1 December 2023)
A number of further appeals are pending including:
- Land to the North of Eagle Farm Cranfield Road Wavendon (Hearing – Decision awaited)
- Land South of Chiswell Green Lane St Albans (Inquiry – 17 April 2023 – Decision awaited)
- Land North of Chiswell Green Lane St Albans (Inquiry – 17 April 2023 – Decision awaited)
- Land west of Moreton Road and Castlemilk Buckingham (SoS Call In – Inquiry – 17 October 2023 – Decision awaited)
- Land at Linford Lakes Milton Keynes (Inquiry – 5 December 2023 – Decision awaited)
- Land at Swallowfields, Welwyn Garden City (Inquiry – 12 December 2023 – Decision awaited)
- Land South Of 73-81 Upwell Road March (Hearing – 13 December 2023 – Decision awaited)
- Land at Cambridge Road Impington (Inquiry – 16 January 2024)
- Land at Richings Way Iver (Hearing – 16 January 2024)
- Strawberry Farm Salford Road Aspley Guise (Hearing – 16 January 2024)
- Land North of Stockbridge Road Clifton (Hearing – 30 Jan 2024)
- Land at Cherry Tree House Greenfield Road Pulloxhill (Written Reps – in progress)
- Land south of Cambridge Road Langford (Inquiry – 12 March 2024)
Recent Planning Caselaw Updates
The case of R (Fiske) v Test Valley Borough Council  EWCA Civ 1495 relates to the same site but is a separate case to the Fiske decision on the scope of section 73 applications handed down earlier this year. That section 73 case is subject to a separate application to appeal. In this latest case, the court had to decide whether a local authority failed to have regard to an “obviously material” consideration by not considering the incompatibility of a planning permission (for a substation) with one it had previously granted (for a solar park). Although the court found that the two permissions in question “are incompatible, and obviously so” the court concluded that neither future breaches of planning control nor incompatibility of permissions were matters the LPA had to have regard to in determining the application. The court identified that “the local planning authority is not legally compelled to anticipate how the developer might later choose to deal with such inconsistency, or to assume that he will resort to unlawful means of doing so. That is not the authority’s job.”
Lidl Great Britain Ltd, R (On the Application Of) v East Lindsey District Council  EWHC 3210 (Admin) was a permission stage decision relating to a challenge brought by Lidl against East Lindsay’s decision to grant permission for a new Aldi supermarket in Horncastle. Both Lidl and Aldi had submitted applications for supermarkets, but the Aldi application was determined first. The court identified that the proposals were “essentially rival sites for the same local need” in circumstances where the “likelihood was that only one permission would be granted”. The ground that both applications should have been considered alongside one another was considered arguable and the court granted permission to proceed on this basis together with the ground of procedural unfairness in determining the Aldi application until comments on the Lidl scheme were available.
The High Court case of R (Davies) v Vale of Glamorgan Council  EWHC 3161 (Admin) concerned a challenge to a grant of permission for 34 dwellings in Cowbridge and also a decision declining to find that drainage approval would be required under the Flood and Water Management Act 2010. The challenge to the grant of permission was that the decision was made on a “false or inconsistent basis” in that there was a finding that a 2-metre fence on the site would not be erected and that a species licence would be granted as the development would not harm the conservation status of bat species but that an objection from National Resources Wales had been resolved on the basis that this fence would be constructed to prevent harm to bats. The approved drawing did include the label “2000mm high timber fence” but the court found this ground “completely hopeless” as the drawing did not depict the fence in question and the list of revisions on the plan indicated the fence had been removed. The court found that NRW’s decision not to be involved in proceedings was significant. The court declined to make a declaration on the matter of drainage approval, finding that there was no actual decision being challenged.
Peak District And South Yorkshire Branch of the CPRE, R (On the Application Of) v Secretary of State for Transport  EWHC 2917 (Admin) concerned a legal challenge to the grant of development consent for the A57 Link Roads Scheme. The judgment focused on whether the SofS had unlawfully failed to assess whether credible alternatives proposed might deliver substantially similar benefits with less harm to the Green Belt when concluding that benefits of the scheme outweighed harm to the Green Belt so that very special circumstances justified inappropriate development in the Green Belt. The court held that there is no general principle of law that in any case where a proposed development would cause adverse effects, but these are held to be outweighed by its beneficial effects, the existence of alternative sites inevitably becomes a mandatory material consideration. For a consideration to be a “mandatory material consideration” (other than when required to be taken into account expressly by legislation or policy) the consideration would need to be, on the facts of the case, “so obviously material” to the decision on the project to require direct consideration. The court rejected the proposition that alternatives proposed were a mandatory material consideration.
Bramley Solar Farm Residents Group v Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities  EWHC 2842 (Admin) concerned a challenge to a grant of planning permission on appeal for a renewable led energy generating station. The court found that consultation on amendments are occasionally carried out on appeal (by appellant or LPA) but that there is no legal obligation to comply with the DMPO when doing so and no need for the consultation to be by a public body. However, the consultation must meet common law requirements of fairness. It was also open to the Inspector to consider both the original and amended schemes at inquiry and to determine whether to accept the amendments in the decision. On landscape, the court highlighted the distinction in NPPF para. 174 for valued landscapes to be “protected” and “enhanced” whereas other countryside is to be “recognised” for its intrinsic character and beauty (and that “recognise” has some protective implication). The court also found there is nothing in the PPG or EN-3 to require the consideration of alternative sites for solar farms. However, in exceptional circumstances, considering alternatives might be relevant for such projects.
The case of NRS Saredon Aggregates Ltd v Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities  EWHC 2795 (Admin) resulted in the quashing of an Inspector’s decision to dismiss an appeal in connection with a sand and gravel quarry. Development plan policy required the delivery of “net gains for biodiversity”. It was agreed that following restoration the project would result in BNG of 39.31% for habitats and 107.51% for hedgerows. However, the Inspector had commented that some of the net gain “is required to meet national policy and future legislative requirements” and gave this “moderate weight”. The court found that the Inspector had incorrectly believed that some of the net gain would be required by forthcoming legislation, but this was an error of law. Mandatory BNG will only apply to applications made after implementing regulations under the Environment Act are brought into force and here the Inspector had reduced the weight to be given to the BNG based on a mistaken view of the law.
House v Waverley Borough Council  EWHC 3011 (Admin) concerned a challenge to the Council’s decision to adopt the Waverley Borough Local Plan Part 2: Site Allocations and Development Management Policies. The grounds of challenge included that the Inspector had failed to consider whether it was sound to restrict the scope of the plan as a “daughter document” to the Part 1 plan, that the approach of the examination was unlawful and that it was irrational for the Inspector to conclude there was a reasonable prospect of varying/discharging a restrictive covenant over a site to be allocated in the plan. On the first two grounds the court found the challenge was seeking to re-run submissions from the examination and these grounds did not succeed. The final ground also failed as the court found the high threshold for an irrationality challenge had not been reached.
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