Although planning decisions do not operate as ‘precedents’ in a legal sense, the views of an inspector or Secretary of State in deciding one appeal can influence how a decision is taken on another application or appeal. The law does expect a level of consistency and requires adequate and intelligible reasons to be given for a departure from a decision on the same site for a comparable development (ie material change in circumstances).
In a recent appeal an inspector allowed an extra care development in an AONB, on grounds that there was “hardly any market extra care housing in the district” and “the stark fact is that choice is not available”. In applying the test at NPPF paragraph 172, which requires “exceptional circumstances” to justify major development in AONBs, the inspector commented that he was “in no doubt that the development... is needed”, and that this need could not be met elsewhere or in any other way. Readers of this blog would be very aware that custom-splitting represents an alternative way to meet some of the housing needs of the elderly but this has not established ‘proof of concept’ or become recognized in the planning arena.
Expert evidence given to the inquiry and relied on by the inspector was that, “…the need to provide housing for older people is critical. People are living longer and the proportion of older people in the population is increasing. In mid-2016 there were 1.6 million people aged 85 and over; by mid-2041 this is projected to double to 3.2 million. Offering older people a better choice of accommodation to suit their changing needs can help them live independently for longer, feel more connected to their communities and help reduce costs to the social care and health systems. Therefore, an understanding of how the ageing population affects housing needs is something to be considered from the early stages of plan-making through to decision-taking.”
That is ammunition for those promoting housing for the elderly (inc custom-splitting), but another lesson to be drawn from this appeal is that self and custom-building, another special case, has been identified by the Government as a form of housing that requires support from planning authorities; keeping statutory registers and then approving serviced plots targeted at that level of demand. The failure to do so could justify developments for self/custom – builders in areas where ‘exceptional circumstances’ need to be shown ie AONBs or where there is some landscape impact. I hesitate to say that Green Belt sites would be approved locally or at appeal due to political sensitivities.