Money no object

Regular readers might have noticed that the DCP Blog has been running a bit of a thread on the essential need test for farm dwellings (see Plus ça change….). An inspector who sanctioned the retention of a log cabin at a Wiltshire equestrian enterprise has provided further guidance on the extent to which financial viability must be proven (DCS Number 400-019-439).

The council was concerned that the business was not viable, in a general sense, because it only worked for the appellant because of her low overheads and lack of mortgage.

The inspector acknowledged that, although no longer up-to-date policy, there has been a tendency for decision makers to still rely on the advice in the annex to PPS7 on how to establish an essential need. This advice requires evidence for both a functional and a financial test to be provided. He noted that the relevant part of the NPPF is paragraph 55 [this is now paragraph 79] which says that isolated homes in the countryside should be avoided unless there are special circumstances. These include “the essential need for a rural worker to live permanently at or near their place of work in the countryside”. He recorded that since the publication of the NPPF the courts have considered this example in Regina ex parte Embleton PC and David Ainsley v Northumberland CC and Ivor Gaston [2013]. Here, the judge accepted the argument that the test in paragraph 55 of the NPPF was different from PPS7 as it only requires a planning judgement as to whether there is an “essential” need for a worker to be there or not. In particular, it does not require “that the proposal is economically viable”.

The inspector reasoned that all that needs to be determined is whether there is an essential need or not. All that Embleton did, he maintained, was to make this clear and to confirm that the NPPF does not require a proposal to be economically viable. It does not prevent financial evidence from being considered, however. The final balancing act is a planning judgement, where the failure to show financial viability need not be fatal, but should be part of the decision-making process.

The inspector recognised that the council was sensibly concerned that because of viability issues there might be no long term future for the business, and it was reluctant to grant a permanent permission for a dwelling to service a business that might not survive, regardless of the functional need, as this would lead to an isolated dwelling in the countryside against which there is a strong policy objection. However, he thought its concerns were exaggerated. He reasoned that while the business might fail a strict financial test, the purpose of such a test is to ensure the long term viability of the business, which, if it continued to be operated by the appellant, would seem was assured.

The inspector concluded that if the permission were made personal to the appellant, as well as linked to the business, the proposal would accord with development plan policy and paragraph 55 of the NPPF. He attached a condition to ensure that the appellant could only remain in the log cabin while employed or last employed in the business, reasoning that if the situation for the business changed, it was always open to another person who wished to run it from the log cabin to apply to have the condition removed or altered. Subject to conditions he therefore allowed the appeal and granted planning permission for the log cabin.

National guidance on agricultural dwellings is set out at section 9.331 of DCP Online.