600 homes on a ‘green wedge’ piece of land near Salford have been dismissed by Housing Secretary James Brokenshire, just three years after Eric Pickles’ dismissal of the scheme was quashed by the High Court in 2015.

The appeal related to three separate sites to the east of Worsley in Greater Manchester with a total site area of just under 35 hectares. The appellant sought planning permission for an “aspirational housing” development of 600 homes, of which 30% would be made affordable. The proposal also included playing fields, ancillary development and a 130-berth marina.

The original application was rejected by Salford City Council towards the end of 2013, but the subsequent appeal was recovered by the then Housing Secretary Eric Pickles, who decided to uphold the inspector’s decision to dismiss the appeal. However, Pickles’ decision was then quashed by the High Court and a new inquiry set up, with inspector Michael Boniface appointed to report to new housing secretary James Brokenshire.

The appeal centred on the Worsley greenway, a “strategically important green wedge” covering 195 hectares and incorporating part of the appeal site. Policy EN2 of the council’s development plan restricts development that would “fragment or detract from the openness and continuity” of the greenway.

Even in the absence of policies covering the need for and distribution of housing, Boniface ruled, in policy EN2 the council had “a policy relating to the land in question which unambiguously restricts development of the type proposed”.

The development plan could not therefore be considered “absent, silent, or out of date“ with regards to the greenway, he found. Brokenshire agreed, ruling that unacceptable harm would arise from the scheme’s conflict with policy EN2.

However, it was the appellants view that the council’s housing land supply figures should be considered a “work in progress”, given the then-upcoming government consultation on calculating housing need.

In response, Brokenshire undertook his own calculation, finding a supply of over 13 years. On this basis he considered that the development plan was clearly not hindering the council’s delivery of housing.

Despite its large housing land supply, the appellant argued, the council was not meeting the needs of the Salford housing market as a whole, pointing to “significant deficiencies” in the number of larger “aspirational” homes and “wider issues with homelessness and affordability”.

RAID (Residents Against Inappropriate Development) – a community group opposed to the scheme that had been granted Rule 6 status at the inquiry – challenged this view, stating that “to suggest that the proposed development will make any meaningful contribution to tackling homelessness is simply an insult to our intelligence”.

Notwithstanding the council’s strong housing supply position, Brokenshire afforded significant weight to the scheme’s provision of aspirational housing.

He gave no additional weight to the appellant’s voluntary “enhanced offering” of 30% affordable housing (10% higher than the 20% requirement set out in the development plan) however, because it failed to meet the regulations for planning obligations set out in the NPPF.

Brokenshire afforded little weight to the fact that the scheme would add to “already unacceptable” levels of air pollution in the area, because the increase would be “negligible”. None of the other issues raised at the four-week inquiry, including traffic, school capacity and flooding, received decisive weight.

In his conclusion, the housing secretary ruled that despite the benefits of the scheme’s provision of “aspirational and affordable housing”, there were no material considerations to justify departing from the development plan. The appeal was therefore dismissed.

19 November 2018