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Important Court of Appeal Judgment on “Isolated Homes” and National Heritage Policy

Melissa Murphy

The Court of Appeal has dismissed City & Country’s appeal in the Bramshill case. It is an important judgment, because the appeal raised questions on the interpretation and application of policies in the National Planning Policy Framework against the development of “isolated homes in the countryside” and on the assessment of harm and benefit to “heritage assets”. 

Bramshill House itself is a magnificent Jacobean mansion, which has survived largely intact, together with its beautiful early seventeenth century water garden. It is regarded as one of the most important country houses in England. The Court of Appeal’s judgment represents the final appeal stage in relation to a set of proposals to convert the mansion into apartments and to introduce new residential development into the Registered Park & Garden (the latter being the subject of the legal challenge). 

Applying Braintree District Council v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government [2018] 2 P. & C.R. 9, the Court of Appeal supported the Inspector’s approach to the question of “isolated homes in the countryside”, saying (at [32]) that the decision maker must consider, “whether [the development] would be physically isolated, in the sense of being isolated from a settlement”. What is a “settlement”, and whether the development would be “isolated” from a settlement are both matters of planning judgment for the decision-maker on the facts of the particular case.

The judgment is of particular interest to those involved in heritage planning. The Court rejected the proposition that there was a “principle” espoused in the R. (on the application of Palmer) v Herefordshire Council [2016] EWCA Civ 1061 which necessitates ascertaining whether there is “net” harm to a heritage asset when applying national policy (e.g. [80]). The Court went on to consider a very common formulation of local heritage policy which did not contain a similar balance to that found within paragraph 196 of the National Planning Policy Framework. The Court said that “the absence of an explicit reference to striking a balance between “harm” and “public benefits” in the local plan policies does not put [such policies] into conflict with the NPPF, or with the duty in section 66(1)” (at [87]). It noted that those policies were directed to the same basic objective of preservation. 

City & Country did not ask for permission to appeal. 

Melissa Murphy appeared for The National Trust, one of the Respondents at the Court of Appeal stage, having represented the Trust at the public inquiry and in the High Court instructed by Sharpe Pritchard LLP.