An isolated case

Regular readers will be aware that in a couple of posts we have drawn attention to the lack of a definition for ‘isolated’ in the NPPF; Nature abhors a vacuum and  ‘Isolation’ – Now we’re getting somewhere. Readers might also be aware that the matter has been addressed recently in the High Court – Braintree District Council v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government [2017].  Here on the Blog we have been keeping watch for an appeal case which refers to this court ruling in order to understand its impact in practice, and a useful example has come up in Worcestershire (DCS Number 400-017-452). This case involves the conversion of storage buildings adjacent to a village settlement boundary to three dwellings. Despite being identified as being within open countryside, the site was not isolated, the inspector concluded:

“Paragraph 55 of the Framework says that isolated homes in the countryside should be avoided. Although ‘isolated’ is not defined, it is reasonable to understand that it means isolated spatially from other built development, and this supported by the judgement in Braintree District Council v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Greyread Limited & Granville Developments Limited [2017] EWHC 2743 (Admin). In the case before me, the site is adjacent to a residential property which is within the settlement. Indeed the retained building on the appeal site runs along the boundary with the dwelling and is seen in the same context. Therefore I consider the site is not isolated, and the development would not conflict with paragraph 55. I accept Braintree District Council in the above case did not have a five years supply of housing, whereas Wychavon District does, but that does not alter the interpretation of paragraph 55.”

There must surely be a good number of rejected proposals on edge-of-village sites which are now worth another look.

National guidance on isolated homes in the countryside is set out in DCP Online section 9.231.

3 Responses to “An isolated case”

  1. KSRai

    What’s truly unbelievable is that HMG thought it acceptable to publish the NPPF in 2012 WITHOUT further clarifying its definition of ‘isolation’ at the time. Granted, there are plenty of other flaws in the document but nailing this one down was absolutely fundamental towards understanding the correct interpretation of Paragraph 55…

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  2. GrahamTownsend

    Given the NPPF is a planning document and (supposedly) about promoting development in sustainable locations, it ought to be open to LPAs to interpret “isolated” in that context. Isolated from facilities? from communities? from sustainable transport routes? – all could be valid in context. It’s unfortunate that a handful of appeal decisions have encouraged applications based on the view that if it’s next door to another house then it’s not isolated.

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  3. RichardW

    I agree with Graham and KS. Although Braintree DC perhaps went a little too hard (by not allowing for development supporting services across a group of villages) I think some appeal decisions have gone much too far the other way. The upper courts are clear that NPPF terms have to be read in context, and with respect, I don’t think the judge did this in the Braintree case.

    NPPF 55 begins with the policy objective: “To promote sustainable development in rural areas, housing should be located where it will enhance or maintain the vitality of rural communities.”

    It then gives some positive examples: “For example, where there are groups of smaller settlements, development in one village may support services in a village nearby.”

    It then concludes with the logical corollary: “Local planning authorities should avoid new isolated homes in the countryside unless there are special circumstances such as:”

    The first two sentences give context and meaning to the last. I think it’s clear that NPPF 55 is about locating housing “where it will enhance or maintain the vitality of rural communities” and not elsewhere (other than the exceptions noted).
    It’s not a landscape policy and it’s not about ‘protecting the countryside for its own sake’. So whether a proposal is ‘isolated in the countryside’ or ‘isolated in the landscape’ should not be relevant to considering whether proposal is supported by NPPF 55.
    I would maintain that physical relationships with existing development are not relevant to NPPF55 . What matters is whether the proposal will serve ‘to enhance the vitality of rural communities’ which will typically be where it will support village services nearby and not be reliant on car access in the catchment of a main town.
    And don’t get me started on Planning Inspectors (and others) continuing to simplistically ‘turn off’ local plan policy in favour of the NPPF post the Suffolk Coastal Supreme Court decision…

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