The outrage over the Secretary of State’s decision to overturn at appeal Lewes District Council’s refusal of 50 houses at Mitchelswood Farm in Newick is very understandable, as it appears in itself to negate the basis of the Newick Neighbourhood Plan as a whole.
Although Neighbourhood Plans do not carry statutory force, they do have a form of standing in their own right once they have been ‘signed off’ as a satisfactory expression of local planning aspirations and concerns, thus valid in terms of the Localism Act.
In other words, by flying in the face of genuine local planning concerns, the Secretary of State would appear to undermine the Newick Neighbourhood Plan as a planning tool in all other contexts. This then raises questions as to a possible Judicial Review.
Although the district council has been told that there is not much chance of this, I beg to differ. There are five different grounds under which a Judicial Review can be pursued, some relating to points of law or accuracy, but also others which relate to valid procedures plus natural justice.
In the case of Newick, granting a planning consent on the basis of minimum availability of housing numbers being open to increase(s) by the operation of the free market would seem an invitation to developers generally to exploit a loophole in procedures, an example of ‘the numbers game’ at its worst.
This would appear also to have ramifications in terms of ‘natural justice’ when seen against the spirit and ethos of the Localism Act, on which the District’s Neighbourhood Plan and its subsequent refusal of the Mitchelswood planning application for 50 extra houses (a not inconsiderable amount for a village) were both based.
The Secretary of State’s arbitrary and questionable decision to approve this type of increase blows a hole in the whole local planning process which would seem to cater for further disproportionate proposals also to be allowed.
I suspect that the district council has a valid case on which to apply for a Judicial Review of this decision.