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High Court Refuses Permission for Challenge to Inspector’s Treatment of 5 Year Housing Land Supply Issues

Saira Kabir Sheikh QC
Alexander Booth QC
Richard Honey
Daisy Noble

Mrs Justice Lang has refused permission for statutory review of the decision of an Inspector, refusing two planning applications for residential development of up to 220 dwellings in Central Bedfordshire.  The case raised issues concerning the application of the tilted balance and the Standard Method for the calculation of housing requirement within the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

The appellant, Gladman Developments, initially sought to challenge the decision of the Secretary of State’s Inspector under section 288 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 on four grounds.  The fourth ground, which alleged procedural unfairness, was not pursued by the Claimant at the oral renewal hearing.

One of the main grounds of challenge concerned the Inspector’s departure from the Standard Method, which was introduced by the 2018 NPPF as a method for calculating the housing requirement.  The Inspector accepted the Council’s submissions that he should depart from the Standard Method because, when applied in the Central Bedfordshire area, the Standard Method led to an inappropriate housing need figure due to its use of one particular input (the census mid-year estimates for that area), whereas the objectively-assessed housing need figure from the Strategic Housing Market Assessment provided a more appropriate and reasonable housing need figure for the area at the time.  The Claimant’s argument that either the Inspector must apply all the policy in the NPPF on five-year housing land supply, it allegedly being a “sealed system” of policy, or depart from the policy in its entirety, was rejected.  The Judge accepted that the Standard Method was policy and not law and could be departed from if clear and cogent reasons were provided.

Furthermore, Lang J was not persuaded that the Inspector had misinterpreted or misapplied paragraph 11(d) of the NPPF, in finding that certain policies were not amongst the most important for determining the application.  The Claimant’s submission that the Inspector had treated the exclusion of certain policies from the reasons for refusal as determinative of the issue was not considered to be arguable.

The Claimant’s reason challenge also failed: the Inspector’s reasons for preferring a reversion to the previous method of calculating housing need, over adopting the Claimant’s ‘novel’ hybrid approach of substituting figures within one stage of the Standard Method, were clear and adequate.

Richard Honey acted for the successful Secretary of State.  Alexander Booth QC (prior to the hearing) and Saira Kabir Sheikh QC (for the hearing) and Daisy Noble acted for the successful Second Defendant, Central Bedfordshire Council.