Permission for 500 homes in the Green Belt

Fri, 24 Apr 2020

Chris Young QC, James Corbet Burcher and Thea Osmund-Smith secure Successful Appeal Result for Oxford Brookes University on its Wheatley Campus Site

The Appeal Site

The Oxford Brookes Wheatley Campus is located within the Green Belt. A large 12-storey tower stands prominently in the middle of the campus and can be seen from a wide area around. The campus has provided education and accommodation for thousands of students for many years, but it is now surplus to requirements and deserves a productive new use.

A multi-disciplinary team, led by Avison Young, have worked for several years to develop a residential scheme of up to 500 units, delivering significant additional benefits in respect of affordable housing, sports provision and accessibility. This carefully took account of listed properties outside the appeal site boundary and a scheduled monument within the site.

The Initial Refusal

South Oxfordshire District Council were prepared to allocate 300 in their emerging Local Plan, but only the footprint of the existing built form. The Council’s approach to its emerging Local Plan has been well-documented elsewhere.

In determining the application, the Council refused permission for the scheme citing Green Belt, and additional landscape, heritage and accessibility concerns.

The Inquiry

In October 2019, Chris Young QC and James Corbet Burcher appeared for the University at the 2- week public inquiry. Thea Osmund-Smith had advised extensively at the outset of the appeal but was unavailable for the inquiry dates.

They called evidence from experts across heritage, landscape, accessibility, affordable housing, housing need and supply and planning.

The Decision

Yesterday, 23 April 2020, the Secretary of State allowed the appeal and granted permission, following the recommendation of his Inspector, D M Young.

The Secretary of State endorsed the University’s vision for the Site, in a decision that contains a number of important insights into how to secure permission for major development in the Green Belt:

  • The Presumption: The Secretary of State identified that the presumption was engaged by NPPF 11d by virtue of the datedness of the most important policies for determining the application – comprised within South Oxfordshire’s development plan (a Local Plan adopted in 2006 and a Core Strategy adopted in 2012): DL18
  • Green Belt (PDL and Openness): The Secretary of State found that a large portion of the site comprised previously developed land, to be considered under NPPF 145g. A portion lying outside this area (14% of the total area) did not comprise PDL and therefore its development would require very special circumstances. In assessing the impact on Green Belt openness, the Secretary of State identified that the removal of the tower and other large, unsightly structures would amount to a very substantial benefit: DL22.
  • Heritage: The Secretary of State identified that the redevelopment of the site would lead to significant heritage benefits, including the removal of the stark backdrop of the campus buildings and the removal of the tower in views from a listed church. This would also amount to a significant benefit and that there would be no overall heritage harm: DL30;
  • Accessibility: A package of transport measures including highways works and bus service would also be a significant benefit: DL31;
  • Housing: The provision of 173 affordable homes on site – against a situation which the Council accepted as “acute” – should be accorded very substantial weight: DL35. As to market housing, irrespective of the fact that SODC were able to demonstrate a 5 year housing land supply, the delivery of housing also attracted very substantial weight in combination with other benefits: DL46.

In summary, this is a good example of how the appeal process can work for well-planned major schemes in the Green Belt. It is a positive sign for the promotion and delivery of such schemes beyond lockdown: a textbook example of planning for the recovery.

The appeal decision can be accessed here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/recovered-appeal-oxford-brookes-university-wheatley-campus-college-close-wheatley-oxford-ref-3230827-23-april-2020

Christopher Young QC, James Corbet Burcher and Thea Osmund-Smith are members of the Planning & Environment Group at No5.

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