1 March 2013

Local plan knocks wind out of inspector and secretary of state

The message: The national need for renewable energy does not take priority over planning considerations.

The case: The High Court has quashed a planning permission for a wind farm, as the inspector failed to prioritise policies set out in the local development plan (South Northamptonshire Council v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and Broadview Energy Developments, 16.01.13).

On 12 July 2012, a planning inspector appointed by the secretary of state granted planning permission for a wind farm of five 125 metre-high turbines at Spring Farm Ridge, near Brackley.

The council and a local resident challenged the decision on the basis that the inspector had failed to have proper regard to the correct test for dealing with conflicts between the proposed development and the local plan. They also claimed the inspector had failed to have proper regard to the desirability of preserving the setting of nearby listed buildings and the impact on neighbouring conservation areas.

Under the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, any determination must accord with the relevant development plan, unless material considerations indicate otherwise. The Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 also requires special regard to preserving listed buildings and the character and appearance of their setting.

The inspector considered whether the harm caused by the development would outweigh the benefits. She laid great emphasis on the benefits of renewable energy generation and felt these outweighed the effect the turbines would have on the landscape and noise levels. She accepted the impact would be substantial, but said conditions could be imposed to safeguard residents’ interests.

The court, however, agreed with the claimants that the inspector had failed to apply the correct test. She had not started from the position of giving the development plan priority and then considering whether material considerations outweighed its requirements. Although the inspector paid regard to the plan and the way in which it conflicted with the proposed development, she had placed too much emphasis on allowing the development to proceed unless demonstrable substantial harm would result.

The court did hold that the inspector had otherwise acted in accordance with the statutory requirements. She had properly considered the visual and noise impact on the locality. But the court made clear that national policy seeks well-planned developments and the quest for renewable energy should not be at the expense of environment or heritage. It therefore quashed the permission.

Summing up: South Northamptonshire v Communities and Local Government and Broadview Energy Developments

  • An inspector granted planning permission for a wind farm in south Northamptonshire
  • The council and a local resident challenged thedecision on the basis that it conflicted with localplanning policy
  • The High Court recognised the benefits of renewable energy but found against the inspector, as she had not given precedence to the local plan.

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