The development proposal, for the erection of 5 dwellings and children’s play area with associated vehicular access at land rear of the Hanbury Centre, Stonton Road, Church Langton LE16 7SZ, was initially refused outline planning permission by Harborough District Council. The subsequent appeal was dismissed by a Planning Inspector, see appeal reference: APP/F2415/W/18/3212873.
Relevant to this appeal is the East Langton Neighbourhood Plan (ELNP), which was formally made by Harborough District Council in June 2018.
Impact on open space, sport and recreationIn assessing the scheme, the Planning Inspector's main concern was that the development would lead to the loss of an open space used for sports and recreation.
The ELNP seeks to retain the appeal site as an open space, indicating the site on a map and describing it as a "Site of environmental and community significance, including Open Space, Sport & Recreation sites".
Local Green Space statusWhere an open space satisfies certain criteria, Neighbourhood Plans can designate the open space as a 'Local Green Space'. This designation gives open spaces protection from development akin to 'Green Belt' policy.
The criteria which an open space must satisfy to qualify for Local Green Space designation are set out in paragraph 100 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).
Whilst the ELNP notes the significance of the appeal site to the local community for its recreational value, the site is not designated as a Local Green Space (LGS).
The submission version of the ELNP did in fact propose the site for LGS designation. However in his Report the Neighbourhood Plan Examiner concluded that whilst the site is an 'attractive green area', it does not satisfy the national policy criteria of being 'demonstrably special...'.
The Neighbourhood Plan Examiner also noted the 'sustainable location' of the open space, concluding:
I must consider whether its designation as an LGS might prevent the making of the Plan from contributing to the achievement of sustainable development.
This implies that the site's future development potential is somehow relevant to considering whether the site should be designated as LGS. The NPPF's criteria for designating LGS's do not require the assessment of a site's future development potential - rather it is an assessment of the open space's value to the community it serves at present.
The basic conditions require a neighbourhood plan as a whole to "contribute to the achievement of sustainable development". However it is unclear how the designation of one modest open space as a LGS would undermine the whole plan's contribution to delivering sustainable development.
Planning balanceAt the time of the planning appeal, Harborough District could (and presumably still can) demonstrate in excess of a Five Year Supply of Housing Land - in other words, it has sufficient land supply to meet its housing needs in the short term. The NPPF's 'tilted balance' under the presumption in favour of sustainable development does not therefore apply in this case.
The site is located outside the defined Development Boundary which, the Inspector notes, is contrary to strategic policies in the district's Core Strategy.
In his Decision Letter, the Inspector makes reference to national policy which states that existing open space, sports and recreational buildings and land should not be built on unless clearly surplus to requirements, or their replacement would be at least equal in quantity and quality.
The Inspector noted the ELNP's aspiration to retain the site for open space, sport and recreation, and perhaps takes a more sympathetic view than the Neighbourhood Plan Examiner, concluding that any future development potential is 'not significant at this time' and, 'since there will be periodic reviews and monitoring through the development plan process, if there should be a shortfall it will be appropriately addressed in the future'. In other words, a future review of the ELNP can consider whether the site should be retained in its current use, or should be allocated for development.
During the appeal local people clearly expressed their concerns regarding the potential loss of open space, along with evidence presented by the district council, leading the Inspector to note:
I have found from the evidence before me that the OSSR [open space, sport, recreation] site off Old School Walk is much valued by local people with strong opposition to it being taken away.
Ultimately, the Inspector concluded the proposal does not conform with the ELNP, certain strategic policies of the Core Strategy, and National Policy which seeks to protect open spaces for sport and recreation.
Importance of evidenceThrough the appeal it was demonstrated that the appeal site is of particular local significance to the local community due to the site's recreational value. It is therefore regrettable that, during the examination process, the Neighbourhood Plan Examiner recommended the proposed Local Green Space designation be removed from the site.
The appeal process is lengthy and costly, and in this case will likely have caused a good deal of upset for the local community who faced the threat of losing a valued open space.
If the site had been designated as an LGS in the ELNP, the outcome would have been the same, the site would remain unsuitable for development - without requiring the expense of a planning appeal to determine this fact.
The ELNP was accompanied by a clear assessment of open spaces, and perhaps there was nothing more the ELNP could have done to convince the examiner the site should be designated.
However, it was the culmination of various evidence sources which led the Inspector to determine the site's recreational value. When making Local Green Space designations, it is essential that Neighbourhood Plans are accompanied by an assessment which demonstrates that the open space satisfies the NPPF's criteria. Crucially, this should contain clear evidence to demonstrate the open space is of 'particular local significance' to the community it serves. Local Green Spaces are a powerful tool, and consequently should be supported by robust evidence.
Locality has recently published a very helpful toolkit for making Local Green Space designations which explains the types of evidence that can be used as justification.