A plea for plain English

What does ‘less than substantial harm’ mean to the ordinary man in the street? Not significant harm, maybe. What is indicated if ‘less than substantial harm’ is found to the setting of a heritage asset? That the proposed development is likely to be found acceptable, maybe. No and no.

A solar farm was proposed within the setting of both Glastonbury Tor and a farmhouse once used by the abbots (DCS Number 200-004-497). An inspector found that the proposal would cause ‘less than substantial harm’ to the setting of the heritage assets. In arriving at his decision the inspector considered the benefits of the scheme including the conversion of barns adjacent to the farmhouse for accommodation for retired farmers, a project which he found to have considerable merit. Nevertheless, he concluded that the benefits would not justify the harm the development would cause to the heritage assets.

Clearly, read in the context of Paragraphs 133 and 134 of the NPPF the phrase ‘less than substantial harm’ begins to make sense. Substantial harm to or total loss of a heritage asset is likely to be refused, unless exceptional circumstances apply. Less than substantial harm will require a balancing exercise to be undertaken. Writing for the losing party, the inspector helpfully explained that the harm would be at the top end of harm in the ‘less than substantial harm’ category.

In a situation of this nature an aggrieved appellant might make greater sense of the inspector’s reasoning if he were to consult the NPPF. Or he might not consult the NPPF and remain an aggrieved appellant. If only plain English were used in the first place the outcome would be far less confusing and perplexing for the ordinary man in the street.

The following DCP chapter is relevant: 4.37

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