Early Housing Need Review Mechanism acceptable to make Planning Core Strategy Sound

If a local planning authority commits itself to an early review in which it will assess the full housing needs of it’s area and consider whether those needs can be met, can that authority lawfully adopt its core strategy, without a present assessment of those needs, on the basis that it has that commitment in it?

That was the question in the High Court case of Grand Union Investments Ltd v Dacorum Borough Council [2014].

Grand Union’s planning consultants, Savills, responded on its behalf to consultation on the draft core strategy. Ultimately they contended that, in the light of household projections, the core strategy should provide for the development of 563 dwellings a year, and a total of 14,080 for the plan period, and that the Council’s intended provision of 11,320 dwellings in the plan period would not meet the borough’s housing needs.

When the draft core strategy went for approval by the Government planning inspector he said there was insufficient substantive evidence to enable him to be confident that 11,320 dwellings represented a full objectively assessed need.

One of the options the inspector then suggested for the Council was “to commit to an early partial review of the [core strategy] (by way of an appropriate [main modification]), in order to investigate ways of assessing and meeting housing need more fully (taking into account up-dated household and population projections)”.

The Council accepted this suggestion and modified the core strategy accordingly.

Grand Union challenged the lawfulness of the core strategy as modified in this way.

The High Court ruled that the Council lawfully adopted the core strategy.

Testing the soundness of a plan was not the court’s task. That task was a matter of planning judgment. The court’s jurisdiction was limited to review on traditional public law grounds whether the Council’s adoption of the plan on the inspector’s recommendation was irrational.

Irrationality would require an unusually bad error of judgment. It must shown that the decision falls outside the range of judgment open to a reasonable decision-maker.

The inspector judged that the modification was a sufficient solution – proportionate to the problem. This was not an irrational view. It was entirely reasonable.

It was “pragmatic, rational and justified” and the reasons the inspector gave for those conclusions were not only adequate and clear, but make perfectly good sense. Another inspector might have come to a different view. But that did not mean that this inspector’s conclusion, formed on the evidence and representations he had heard, was bad as a matter of law.

The inspector neither neglected nor misunderstood any relevant part of Government planning policy. He clearly had regard to the principles in national policy relevant to the matters he had to consider.

So although the core strategy was reliant on an early review mechanism for determining housing need, Grand Union’s challenge to it’s lawfulness and sufficiency was rejected.

This blog has been posted as a matter of general interest. It does not remove the need to get bespoke planning advice in individual cases.