Being totally presumptuous here

If we say nothing-1The phrase “a presumption in favour of development” is used a lot in the context of a lack of 5 year housing land supply. This, in turn, is taken as a green light for developers and development.

At least this is a narrative encouraged by the developers themselves. A narrative designed to suggest to residents that it is simply not worth opposing schemes because they are inevitable. The few of us lucky enough to hear about Grainger’s exhibition will remember their consultants saying, ‘well it is going to happen anyway’. It is why their pretty exhibition boards had “sustainable development” plastered all of them which it the litmus test of development.

Well, here’s the news. This is simply not true. 

It is vitally important that everyone understands the real story behind this deeply misunderstood and heavily spun soundbite.

As SODC has failed to prove it has a five-year land supply for housing, it is now the case that South Oxfordshire’s adopted policies for development as published in the 2012 Core Strategy document can potentially be overridden.

Developers can now come forward with schemes that, for example, may have been rejected in the past by SODC or that sit complete outside SODC’s Core Strategy. This is, of course, the case on both counts with Grainger.

However, approval of any scheme is far from automatic and there is absolutely no inevitability of development finally being approved.

Although developers happily quote the National Planning Policy Framework on the “presumption in favour”, they are less forthcoming in acknowledging this “presumption” is only “sustainable” when applications comply with 219 policies detailed in the same document.

To give you a flavour, here is an example of a policy in the NPPF (selected at complete random of course).

’66. Applicants will be expected to work closely with those directly affected by their proposals to evolve designs that take account of the views of the community. Proposals that can demonstrate this in developing the design of the new development should be looked on more favorably.’

So that’s Grainger stuffed, right there then. And we did tell them!

The NPPF document is at pains to point out that, in addition, all applications need to comply with all aspects of current planning law, principles and practices. Therefore, for example and amongst other matters, the “green gap” and non “coalescence” between town and village are very important considerations and will not be ignored.

Then there is the fact that NPPF needs to be balanced with the Government’s stated localism agenda, which devolves more decision-making powers from central government. National government will over turn local decisions only as a last resort.

However, it is equally true that as SODC stated in the context of the 5 year housing land supply issues that they now have to engage with developers actively to bring “forward housing sites and ensure we maintain the delivery of housing sites and our five year housing supply in a managed and plan-led approach.” Obviously the phrase managed and plan-led is important as it relates to the Grainger site and the 2012 Core Strategy.

One of the perhaps unintended but very real consequences of the NPPF is that it enables well-funded corporate monoliths to appeal any ‘local’ decision and take their case national. This is a nightmare scenario for authorities like SODC who are then forced to consider using limited and precious public funds to defend their case during appeal.

You can begin to see the level of cynicism that is at play here with certain developers.

But there is good news. The developers don’t win all the appeals even in the world of “presumption in favour”. In the case of Shiplake earlier this year the national NPPF inspector sided with SODC for good old fashioned, sensible planning reasons and the development was thrown out.

And this will be the case with good old East Hagbourne and Didcot should it ever get that far.

And it will only get that far if you fail to be active and voice your concerns. If we say nothing, they will say yes.

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