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HCR Law Events

12 March 2021

Court of Appeal clarifies meaning of “isolated homes in the countryside”

The Court of Appeal has upheld a planning inspector’s decision dismissing appeals in relation to residential development in the grounds of a Grade I listed building.

It held that the inspector’s conclusions that development would result in isolated housing in the countryside, be harmful to the character and appearance of the area and be contrary to local and national planning policy demonstrated a reasonable and lawful exercise of planning judgment. In doing so, the Court provided some useful guidance as to the interpretation and application of the policy against the development of “isolated homes in the countryside” in the National Planning Policy Framework (“NPPF”).

City & Country Bramshill Ltd v Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government [2021] EWCA Civ 320 concerned Bramshill Park in Hampshire, a 106-hectare estate with a Grade I listed Jacobean mansion, a Grade I registered park and garden, and various modern buildings located between two villages. A number of development proposals were put forward, including the conversion of the mansion into apartments and the construction of 235 houses, some of which were to be in place of the existing buildings on the site.

On appeal, the Inspector determined that the house building plans would be unsustainable and would result in isolated housing in the countryside. She said they would be harmful to the character and appearance of the area and would not preserve the special qualities of the mansion and other listed buildings on the site, their settings or the mansion’s registered park and garden.

The developer challenged the Inspector’s decision but was largely unsuccessful in the High Court. Similarly, the Court of Appeal determined that there was nothing to suggest that the Inspector misinterpreted or misapplied the policy contained in paragraph 79 of the NPPF that planning decisions should avoid the development of isolated homes in the countryside unless a listed exemption applies. In determining whether a particular proposal was for “isolated homes in the countryside”, the decision-maker had to consider whether the development would be physically isolated, in the sense of being isolated from a settlement. What constituted a “settlement” and whether the development would be “isolated” from it were both matters of planning judgement for the decision-maker on the facts of each case,

The Court rejected the developer’s argument that the existing buildings on the site represented a “cluster” of dwellings forming a settlement, and that to describe the proposed new homes as “isolated” was therefore not rational. It also rejected the argument that the number of homes proposed was relevant to the issue of whether they would be isolated. The Court held that “to adopt remoteness from other dwellings, instead of remoteness from a settlement, as the test for “isolated homes in the countryside” would seem inconsistent from the government’s evident intention in producing the policy in paragraph 79”, namely to promote sustainable development in rural areas. It would prevent the policy applying to development on land next to other remote or sporadic rural housing on the basis that it would not be isolated, or even prevent it applying to a proposal for two or more dwellings because none of them would itself be isolated from another dwelling.

The Court also determined that the inspector did not err when considering whether the site was “locationally sustainable”, and in particular did not fail to take proper account of the accepted “fall-back” of the site as a residential institution. Similarly, the Inspector could not be faulted on the approach taken in considering the likely effects of the development on the registered park and garden and on the setting of the various listed buildings.

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About the Author
Gemma Dudley, Partner, Planning, Highways & Environment

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