Anne Williams and Douglas Scott have successfully represented Wokingham Borough Council in its resistance of a planning appeal that sought permission to construct an 80-bed dementia care home. Following a two-day hearing in May 2023 the Inspector dismissed the appeal. The decision can be read here.
The Inspector noted that there were two main issues. Firstly, the proposed building’s size and design, and the effect that would have on the character and appearance of the immediate area. Secondly, whether the proposal would materially conflict with climate change objectives. From the outset the Inspector noted that there was an extant permission for the construction of 13 dwellings on the appeal site and this was a material consideration in determining the appeal (paragraph 5).
In the Inspector’s judgement, the “expanse of the built form” was the “primary consideration” in relation to proposal’s impact on the character and appearance of the area (paragraph 16). Having considered the Council’s landscape character assessment, landscape strategy and design guide, the Inspector noted “I am not convinced that the care home building itself, due to its substantial size and massing, would respect the character and quality of the area so as to satisfactorily integrate into its setting”. In relation to the impact on trees, he said that there was little difference between the extant and proposed scheme (paragraph 25).
Contrasting the proposed scheme against the extant permission, the Inspector said that the extant scheme “does provide for a break in the built form” and had “better regard to the prevailing local character” (paragraph 26). The Inspector concluded that the proposed scheme “would be harmful to the character and appearance of the area” (paragraph 28).
The second issue was primarily influenced by the basement for the proposed scheme. Such basements, the Inspector noted, are a “significant undertaking and engineering operation”. The Inspector was critical of the Appellant because the consequences of incorporating the basement “were not properly explored at the application stage” (paragraph 30). This lack of exploration fed through to the appeal stage because there was little agreement between the parties about the climate effects of the basement (paragraphs 31 – 37). Having considered the dearth of reliable information on climate change considerations, the Inspector concluded that “[in] the absence of compelling evidence to suggest otherwise I must therefore conclude that the proposal would materially conflict with national and local climate change objectives” (paragraph 41).
Despite the Council not being able to demonstrate a five-year housing land supply, the Inspector considered that sustainable development underlies the NPPF and “given the uncertainty as to the environmental impacts arising from the scheme, [this] could potentially fly in the face of the [NPPF’s] objectives” (paragraph 43).
Applying the planning balance, the Inspector concluded “there was nothing compelling to suggest that the scheme, as presented, could be considered as a sustainable form of development, and I conclude that the proposal is contrary to the development plan as a whole and is in conflict with underlying principles of the Framework” (paragraph 52).
This case serves as an important reminder that climate change considerations should be focused on at the very start of an appeal. The Inspector noted that even if he was minded to allow the appeal, he couldn’t because the “matter of excavation could not be realistically left to the discharge of a necessary planning condition”. He emphasised that such a consideration is “too integral to the scheme for such an approach, and there being so much uncertainty and dispute” (paragraph 38).