Environmental policies may still hold in expired development plans, High Court rules

The High Court has dismissed a challenge against Salford City Council and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government for refusing planning permission to residential developments in a “green wedge” with wildlife and recreational value.

The Peel Group, one of the UK’s major infrastructure and real estate companies, took the case to the High Court after Salford City Council and the secretary of state had rejected appeals on two proposed developments within the Worsley Greenway, a 195 hectare stretch of land identified in Salford’s 2004-2016 unitary development plan as “of great strategic and local importance”. 

The plan set out strict criteria to grant planning permission for developments within the greenway, including requirements for existing trees and woodlands to be protected, recreational uses to be enhanced and wildlife habitats to be maintained and improved. 

Lawyers for the Peel Group argued that those criteria, set out in a policy within the unitary development plan, were “automatically out-of-date” because the plan as a whole had expired by the time the decision was made. They said that Salford City Council should have applied the “tilted balance” in favour of sustainable development, as set out in article 14 of the 2018 National Planning Policy Framework.

However, Mr Justice Dove dismissed the challenge, rejecting the argument that “the elapse of time is central to the question of whether a policy is out-of-date”. 

Instead, the question is “whether or not the passage of time had led to the policy being overtaken by events”, he stated, meaning that the planning inspector was entitled to conclude the environmental policy was “not in any way out-of-date”, despite it appearing within an expired plan. 

“It is very far from uncommon to have policies in a plan related to environmental protection whose objectives will, and are intended to, continue well beyond the end of a plan period,” Justice Dove added in his concluding remarks. 

“Whilst, of course, when a local development document is formulated it is formulated as a whole, and is intended to present as a coherent suite of policies, that objective is not inconsistent with the inclusion of some environmental policies being intended and designed to operate on a longer time scale than that which may be contemplated by the plan period,” he said.

Green belt protections and policies relating to protected or irreplaceable habitats would fall under this principle, he added. “It would be both counter-intuitive, and contrary to long standing provisions of national policy, if policies in a development plan protecting these interests were deemed out-of-date at the expiration of a plan period.”

 Read the High Court judgment here.

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