Pegasus Group is delighted to have assisted Robert Hitchins Limited once again in securing outline planning permission on appeal for 250 homes in the AONB at Oakley Farm, Cheltenham.
The site is well related to the built-up area of Cheltenham but it is located outside of the settlement boundary. It is also within the AONB and in the settings of a number of listed buildings associated with a reservoir complex which borders the site to the east.
Given that the proposals represented “Major Development in the AONB” in NPPF terms, this required the Appellant to demonstrate that “exceptional circumstances” justified the proposals and that they were in the public interest having regard to the considerations set out in NPPF paragraph 177. It was also necessary to demonstrate that any harm to the heritage significance of nearby designated heritage assets would be outweighed by the public benefits.
With regards to NPPF paragraph 177a, the Inspector found that the scheme would secure both market and affordable housing for which there is a clear and urgent need in Cheltenham. It would address the immediate shortfall in the five-year housing supply which in the Council’s case is 2.9 years or 1.6 years according to the Appellant. On either basis, the deficit was considered to be “very large.” The Council also accepted that there has been a substantial shortfall in affordable housing delivery and that there is an acute need to address this issue. The Inspector agreed that the proposals would boost the local economy, creating investment in the locality. A summary of the headline economic benefits was set out by the Appellant and this was not disputed by the Council.
In terms of 177b, (cost of and scope for developing elsewhere), he found that Cheltenham is severely constrained by AONB and Green Belt. The review of the JSC has been delayed and the Inspector felt that its timetable was somewhat optimistic given the controversial issues that would no doubt arise including the potential need for releases of land from the Green Belt and AONB as had been acknowledged by the LPA. He did not consider it satisfactory to wait for the emerging plan process to conclude in order to deal with the current housing need. No evidence was presented to the Inquiry that there are other suitable or deliverable sites outside the AONB to address the identified housing need in a timely fashion.
In terms of 177c regarding any detrimental effect on the environment, the Inspector recognised that the site is very unusual in the AONB in that it is bounded by residential development on three and a half sides, and on the remaining fourth side is an engineered landscape. Whilst there would undoubtedly be some harm arising from the development in that an area of pastureland within the AONB would be lost, the site is reasonably well contained by existing residential development. Given these factors, he considered the appeal site an obvious and logical extension to Cheltenham.
With regards to heritage assets, he found that the proposal would result in some harm but this was at lower end of the ‘less than substantial’ spectrum. He found that the harm to heritage assets, even giving great weight to their conservation, would be outweighed by the scheme’s considerable public benefits.
The Inspector considered the County Council’s objections in relation to traffic generation and found that the likely traffic impacts would not meet the threshold of severe, and so an objection cannot be sustained on this basis. The concerns regarding gradients to ensure accessibility for all users can be dealt with by way of a condition.
The inquiry team was led by Paul G Tucker KC and Stephanie Hall of Kings Chambers and included David Hutchison (Planning), Paul Harris (Landscape), Gail Stoten (Heritage), Neil Tiley (housing Land Supply and Education), James Stacey (Affordable Housing) and Graham Eves (Highways).