The Secretary of State allowed an appeal by Oaklands College and Taylor Wimpey against the refusal of St Albans Council to grant planning permission for a comprehensive refurbishment of the College, enabled by 348 dwellings just outside the City. Overall, the development was ‘inappropriate’ as well as being substantively harmful in Green Belt policy terms, but the Secretary of State accepted the inspector’s recommendation that Very Special Circumstances existed. They regarded the delivery of high quality education as “a national and local priority” and accepted the College’s evidence that the only way of funding the necessary improvements was by way of the residential development proposed. This consideration weighed heavily in favour of the scheme. Having received written submissions on the Supreme Court’s judgment in Suffolk Coastal after the close of the inquiry, he also deemed the Local Plan’s policies “directly relating to the supply of housing” to be out of date and held that therefore paragraph 14 was engaged. The contribution to market and affordable (35%) housing in the context of a “significant” shortfall in the 5 year supply attracted “significant weight”. He also gave some weight to environmental enhancements for the benefit of users and facilities within the Green Belt.
This decision will be of interest to practitioners as a rare example of a major housing proposal being permitted in the Green Belt and in the light of the Secretary of State’s application of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Hopkins Homes.
Morag Ellis QC appeared for Oaklands College and Taylor Wimpey