Warwickshire Out-of-Town Office Park gets the Green Light Thanks to Ian Dove QC

Thu, 29 Aug 2013

Warwickshire out-of-town office park gets the green light thanks to Ian Dove QC

The Inspector held an inquiry at the Town Hall, Rugby, on the 8th January 2013. The 3.047 hectare application site is located to the South if Burbage, adjacent to Junction 1 of the M69 motorway where it crosses the A5. 

On the information available at the time of making the direction, the Inspector decided that the following matters on which the Secretary of State needed to be informed for the purpose of his consideration of the application:

a)    The extent to which the proposed development is consistent with the development plan for the area and would deliver a sustainable form of development;
b)    The extent to which the proposed development accords with the National Policy framework, in particular Section 2, which relates to ensuring the vitality of town centres;
c)    The extent to which the proposed development is consistent with Government advice in promoting more sustainable transport (section 4 of the NPPF); promoting accessibility to jobs, leisure facilities and services by public transport, walking and cycling; and reducing the need to travel, especially by car;
d)    The extent to which the proposed development is consistent with Government advice, particularly in relation to giving appropriate weight to protected species and to biodiversity interests within the wider environment (Section 11 of the NPPF);
e)    Whether any permission should be subject to any conditions and, if so, the form these should take; and 
f)    Whether any planning permissions granted should be accompanied by any planning obligations under section 106 of the 1990 Act and, if so, whether the proposed terms of such obligations are acceptable. 


a)    The extent to which the proposed development is consistent with the development plan for the area and would deliver a sustainable form of development;

The Statutory development plan for the area comprises the adopted Rugby Local Development Framework Core Strategy (2011) (RBCCS) together with relevant saved policies of the Rugby Borough Council Local Plan (RBCLP) (2006). The development plan for HBBC, which includes the Hinckley Core Strategy (2009) and the Hinckley Town Centre Area Action Plan (AAP) (2011), is a material consideration. 

After looking through the relevant policies the Inspector was left with the main issue. The question of whether the proposal would deliver a sustainable form of development. The Inspector found that the proposal would contribute to building a strong, responsive and competitive economy by meeting a need in the market place as identified by the Applicant. HBBC contended that the proposal would attract footloose occupiers so that the jobs would be provided anyway.  However, the Inspector that if the proposal was rejected it was not a need that could be meet elsewhere. 

The proposal scored highly when measured against the social role of planning, because it would create a high quality built environment with accessible services that reflect what is required to meet the needs of this area. The site would also create very limited environmental harm. The site is in a countryside location and it had been suggested that the development would harm the landscape character however, the Inspector decided that there was no evidence of this. 

Over all in relation to issue (a) the Inspector concluded that the proposal would accord with a very wide range and a large number of development plan policies and objectives. The Inspector considered the proposal in the context of the other main issues which were identified before coming to an overall conclusion for the development plan. 

b)    The extent to which the proposed development accords with the National Policy framework, in particular Section 2, which relates to ensuring the vitality of town centres;

Although the sequential and impact tests are set out in the NPPF detailed guidance on how to apply the tests is to be found in the still extant PPSA Practice Guidance. Adopting a sequential approach to selecting sites means wherever possible seeking to focus new development within or, failing that, on well located sites on the edge of existing defined centres. Only if town centre or edge of centre sites are not available will out of centre locations be likely to be appropriate in policy terms, provided they are well served by alternative means of transport, and are acceptable in all other respects including impact. National policy requires those promoting development, where it is argued that no other sequentially preferable sites are appropriate, to demonstrate why such sites are not practical alternatives in terms of their availability, suitability and viability. 

In relation to issue (b) the inspector concluded that in terms of the requirements of section 2 of the NPPF the proposals comprised in the application passed  the sequential test and would not have adverse impact on the vitality and viability of the town centre. The proposals were fully compliant with national planning policy set out in the NPPF.

c)    The extent to which the proposed development is consistent with Government advice in promoting more sustainable transport (section 4 of the NPPF); promoting accessibility to jobs, leisure facilities and services by public transport, walking and cycling; and reducing the need to travel, especially by car;

From the evidence that was submitted to the inquiry, the application site was not as accessible as he would have expected however, it was reasonably connected to the town centre by public transport, walking and cycling. Most of the nearby urban area was within a reasonable cycling distance, and the improvements proposed at the junction of the A5/Wolvey Road would make it easier for cyclists to access the site. There is an hourly bus service linking the site to Burbage and there is a bus stop located around 350m from the site. 

The Applicant offered a unilateral undertaking under the terms of which the bus service to the site would be improved. Given the new bus service and the other proposed improvements, It was clear that the proposals before the Inquiry would enhance the accessibility of the site both by slow modes and by public transport. 

Overall in relation to issue (c) the Inspector concluded that the proposal would be consistent with Government advice in promoting more sustainable transport. 


d)    The extent to which the proposed development is consistent with Government advice, particularly in relation to giving appropriate weight to protected species and to biodiversity interests within the wider environment (Section 11 of the NPPF)

It was agreed amongst the parties that the site has Local Wildlife Site status. It was also agreed that the proposals do not have any impact on any protected species. Overall, the Inspector concluded that the proposal, together with the proposed ecological mitigation, would comply with Government policies in the NPPF particularly in relation to protected species and to biodiversity interests within the wider environment.  The proposals went beyond the requirements of national and local planning policies in relation to biodiversity and would provide a net enhancement, qualitatively and quantitatively, of biodiversity and habitat interest there would be significant benefit in nature conservation terms which would be brought about by the grant of consent in this case. 

e)    Whether any permission should be subject to any conditions and, if so, the form these should take

RBC submitted a list of suggested conditions and these were discussed at the Inquiry. These conditions were subsequently revised and document RBC3 represented a high level of agreement between the Applicant and the RBC as to the conditions which will be imposed should planning permission be granted. 

f)    Whether any planning permissions granted should be accompanied by any planning obligations under section 106 of the 1990 Act and, if so, whether the proposed terms of such obligations are acceptable. 

A Section 106 planning obligation/unilateral undertaking was provided in order to address the biodiversity offsetting payment and the highways contributions. The planning obligation was discussed in detail at the Inquiry. The LPA considered that the planning obligation was required in relation to the biodiversity offsetting and the Travel Plan. The Inspector considered that all of the provisions of the Section 106 planning obligation were necessary and had been meet. The Inspector accorded the Section 106 Planning obligation significant weight and had regard to it as a material consideration in my conclusion. 

Overall Conclusion 

From all the evidence submitted at the Inquiry, it was clear to the Inspector that there was a definite need for additional office space in the form of a business park of the kind proposed in the application. Secondly, it was clear that there was no other site which had been credibly suggested as being suitable or available to meet the need and, further, the meeting of need would not in anyway undermine the spatial strategy for Hinkley or the viability of Hinkley town centre. Not only were the town centre sites incapable of meeting the need targeted by the development, but in fact commercial viability considerations meant that office uses would imperil their development. The Town Centre AAP did not require them to support office uses and fosters flexibility in relation to users to ensure that the sites are brought forward and not ham-strug as a result of unprofitable uses. 

Suitable measures are in place to ensure that the development is accessible. The proposal would contribute to the economic prosperity of the area by providing some 350 jobs as well as remediating the site and securing overall bio-diversity enhancements. The Inspector therefore recommended that planning permission with conditions be granted. 

Overall conclusions from the Secretary of State

The Secretary of State concluded that the Applicants demonstrated a definite need for additional office floor space in the form of a business park of the kind proposed. He was satisfied that no other site had credibly been suggested as being suitable or available to meet that need, and that the proposal would not undermine the spatial strategy for Hinkley or the vitality of Hinkley town centre. The Secretary of State considered that the proposal would contribute to the economic prosperity of the area and that it would create a higher quality built environment while securing overall biodiversity enhancements. Overall, he concluded that, to the extent that there is conflict with the development plan, this is clearly outweighed by other material considerations. 

Accordingly for the reasons given above, The Secretary of State agreed with the Inspectors recommendations and granted outline planning permission for a mixed use out of town development comprising Class A3 restaurant, Class B1 business, Class C1 hotel development, Class D2 assembly and leisure and associated car parking and landscaping, subject to the conditions. 

 

For the full Judgement please click here. 

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