Following what is believed to be the first “fully virtual” planning inquiry in the new Covid 19 era, planning permission has been obtained on appeal, following a four-day public inquiry, for the erection of up to 250 dwellings at a site in Holmewood, Derbyshire. The novel features and challenges of a wholly virtual planning inquiry have already been noted in Thoughts from a virtual planning inquiry.

The planning application was refused by members contrary to Officer’s advice upon the basis of alleged landscape harm giving rise to conflict with a single development plan policy relating to landscape character (policy NE1). The issue of housing land supply was not in dispute, it being accepted that the Council had an 8.3 year housing land supply.

The Inspector, in essence, accepted the evidence on behalf of the appellant and concluded that the landscape was of medium sensitivity and that the visual impact would be limited. Whilst the proposal would have a moderately adverse effect upon the landscape character and appearance of the area there would be no loss of any distinctive features, nor would there be a significant loss of identity due to merger with an adjacent settlement, as a fair degree of merging of settlements had already occurred.

That conclusion would have been sufficient to have granted permission given the significant benefits found to arise from the development. However, the Inspector went on to analyse and apply the High Court judgment in Wavendon Properties v Secretary of State [2019] EWHC 1524 (Admin), as to whether the NPPF paragraph 11 “tilted balance” was engaged.  The Inspector accepted the appellant’s argument that the basket of policies (constituting the most important policies for the determination of the appeal) extended to a wider range of policies than just policy NE1, upon which the Council relied. Those policies, collectively, constituted the basket of most important policies for the decision and, as a whole, were out of date. As a result, the tilted balance was engaged and applied.

Peter Goatley QC and Christian Hawley were instructed by Andrew Batterton and Claire Stoneman at DLA LLP in Leeds. Jeremy Peachey of Pegasus provided landscape evidence and Roland Bolton of DLP provided planning evidence on behalf of the appellant.