The interpretation of planning policies and the meaning of “need”

The Court of Appeal has reversed last year’s High Court decision on how development plan policies and their supporting text should be interpreted, and offered some advice on what is meant by “need”.

Last September, we reported in FuturePerfect on a decision of the High Court quashing planning permission for a golf course and hotel at Lord Beaverbrook’s former home in Surrey, finding (among other things) that the applicant had failed to demonstrate a need for the development.

That decision was thoroughly reversed in the Court of Appeal recently (R (Cherkley Campaign Ltd) v Mole Valley DC). On its proper construction, the golf course policy in the Local Plan did not require the applicant to demonstrate a need for further facilities. That requirement was not stated in the policy itself, but only in the supporting text. The supporting text was relevant to interpretation of the policy but could not itself “trump” the policy or insert new requirements.

Accordingly, there was no need to consider need. Nonetheless, Richards LJ (giving the lead judgment) offered some thoughts on the meaning of that term.

The High Court had found that “need” meant required, in the public interest sense, and for the community as a whole – and not simply demanded or desired by private interests. Richards LJ disagreed. There was “no reason in principle why a planning policy should not lay down a requirement of need which is capable of being met by a private demand”. That demand could arise from “outside the local community or area, as in the case of an elite facility catering for a national or even global market”.

The Court of Appeal also overturned other findings of the High Court. The golf course only overlapped the area of outstanding natural beauty by one fairway and one tee and was not therefore a major development in an AONB. Nor had the Council erred in finding that there were “very special circumstances” justifying “inappropriate development” in the Green Belt (as defined in the NPPF), despite the planning officers’ recommendations to the contrary.

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