Presumption in favour of sustainable development?

14th October 2011

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  • Management ,
  • Construction ,
  • Local government



Richard Shepherd and Paul Burgess from WYG on how the draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) may affect planning application decision making.

The publication of the NPPF in July set out the government’s pro-growth agenda and its presumption in favour of sustainable development. While it remains to be seen as to how the detail of the draft may be revised, recent appeal decisions suggest that far from simply being an indication as to the direction of travel, the key tenet of the NPPF – an emphasis on the promotion of economic development – is already being ascribed significant weight by decision makers. Two decisions, which lean on the earlier “Planning for Growth” ministerial statement of March 2011, bear this out.

The first was made by an inspector in determining an appeal against the non-determination of an application for a Tesco superstore in the market town of Alton in Hampshire. The appeal followed the dismissal of a previous appeal in 2010, which sought planning permission for an identical store of 6,112m2 gross, and which was rejected on the grounds that the siting of the store would not encourage linked trips to Alton town centre and would therefore have a detrimental impact on its vitality and viability.

Tesco acted to mitigate such an impact through a legal agreement which not only provides for a subsidy to maintain a dedicated bus service between the store and Alton town centre, but also a sum of £1 million towards improvements to the town centre itself.

Notwithstanding this significant financial contribution, it is interesting to note that, in her decision, the inspector acknowledged that few linked trips were likely to be undertaken on foot or by bicycle and that a significant level of trade would be diverted from existing shops in Alton town centre. Indeed, the inspector went as far as to say that the proposed Tesco, together with other committed development, would result in the closure of in-centre stores.

However, the benefits of the store – relating principally to effective competition and improved consumer choice – were determined to be such that the appeal was allowed, with the inspector specifically reporting that proposal was found to accord with the spirit of the aforementioned March 2011 ministerial statement.

The second decision was made by the secretary of state in determining the called-in application for another Tesco superstore, this time in Eccles in Greater Manchester. This second decision relates to a proposed out-of-centre store of 8,213m2, situated at the existing West One retail park.

In his report to the secretary of state, the inspector found West One to have very little connectivity with Eccles town centre, and the centre itself to be weak and vulnerable and in need of not just protection but enhancement. Moreover, the inspector found that there would be a substantial withdrawal of trade from Eccles town centre as a result of the proposal, with combined cumulative convenience and comparison trade draw impact of the store on the centre estimated as being between 27% and 47%.

However, importantly, it was found that the greatest impact in terms of convenience retailing would fall upon the existing Morrisons store, which trades very strongly. The inspector concluded that this store would continue to trade successfully and that there was no clear evidence that any other town centre shop would close as a result of the approval of the application or that the performance of the centre as a whole would be “fatally compromised”.

In accepting these conclusions, the secretary of state also made specific reference to the ministerial statement of March 2011 and the fact that the principles set out in the statement had been accounted for in granting permission for the superstore. In particular, the secretary of state indicated that, in reaching his decision, he had given “significant weight to the need to secure economic growth and employment”.

While it would generally be unwise to read too much into two decisions in isolation, the clear importance attributed to the wider economic benefits of a proposal in making the above decisions – in accordance with the content of the ministerial statement and the draft NPPF – suggests, to some degree, that a shift in emphasis in weighing “the planning balance” has already occurred, even where potentially locally significant adverse socio-economic effects have been identified on existing town centres in these two cases.

Any such shift is likely to be a permanent feature of the current administration and we wait with interest to see the effect of the growth agenda on forthcoming major development decisions.

Do you agree? Why not start a discussion in the IEMA LinkedIn Group and have your say?

For more information about the article please contact Richard Shepherd, associate town planner or Paul Burgess, associate environmental consultant


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