Planning: Flooding sequential test should have been applied

Policies in the National Planning Policy Framework (“NPPF”) cover development in “areas at risk of flooding”.

These include the policy for the “sequential test” in paragraphs 100 to 104.

“100. Inappropriate development in areas at risk of flooding should be avoided by directing development away from areas at highest risk, but where development is necessary, making it safe without increasing flood risk elsewhere. … Local Plans should apply a sequential, risk-based approach to the location of development to avoid where possible flood risk to people and property and manage any residual risk, taking account of the impacts of climate change, by:

applying the Sequential Test;

if necessary, applying the Exception Test;

using opportunities offered by new development to reduce the causes and impacts of flooding; ….”

The Planning Practice Guidance, issued by the Government has a section on “The sequential, risk-based approach to the location of development”. It gives guidance on the sequential test.

“….The aim is to steer new development to Flood Zone 1 (areas with a low probability of river or sea flooding). Where there are no reasonably available sites in Flood Zone 1, local planning authorities in their decision making should take into account the flood risk vulnerability of land uses and consider reasonably available sites in Flood Zone 2 (areas with a medium probability of river or sea flooding), applying the Exception Test if required. Only where there are no reasonably available sites in Flood Zones 1 or 2 should the suitability of sites in Flood Zone 3 (areas with a high probability of river or sea flooding) be considered, taking into account the flood risk vulnerability of land uses and applying the Exception Test if required.”

In Watermead Parish Council v Aylesbury Vale District Council [2017] planning permission was sought and obtained for a crematorium. Prior to the planning committee meeting the planning officer’s report had mentioned the sequential test but said “The proposal relates to an already developed site, and therefore a sequential assessment is unnecessary.”

The Court of Appeal said the sequential test:

“involves an assessment of the availability of “sites appropriate for the proposed development in areas with a lower probability of flooding”. It is required not only for “new development” proposed on sites which have not previously been developed but also for “new development” on land that is already developed.”

None of the express exemptions to that applied here.

The officer’s advice that under NPPF policy a sequential test was unnecessary in this case because the proposal was for “an already developed site” was based on a misinterpretation of the policy. This was an error of law.

A local planning authority could depart from national planning policy but if it did that, it must do so consciously and for good reason. That was not one here and this was not a case where it could be said that the mistake would have made no difference to the planning decision. Accordingly it was quashed.

This blog has been posted out of general interest. It does not replace the need to get bespoke legal advice in individual cases.