According to Natural England’s ‘Nature on the map’, http://www.natureonthemap.naturalengland.org.uk/magicmap.aspx. Meppershall is not in the Green Belt. Therefore, Central Bedfordshire Council’s extant planning policies relating to building outside settlement envelopes in open countryside etc. are relevant when deciding whether to approve planning applications or defend appeals.
The planning inspector in Appeal Decision 3190584 set out a sophisticated argument for supporting Gladman. Essentially, the inspector gave greater weight to Central Bedfordshire Council’s emerging Local Plan policy than the Council’s extant planning policy. The inspector’s reason for giving greater weight to emerging Local Plan policy was because the past planning appeal decisions taken by other inspectors about disputed planning applications did not contain their reasons for giving greater weight to extant planning policy over the weight they gave to emerging Local Plan policy. However, at the time their appeal decisions were taken Central Bedfordshire Council did not have 5-year Housing Land Supply, so this factor would have outweighed both extant planning policy and emerging Local Plan policy.
Additionally, the inspector noted that in the past Central Bedfordshire Council had approved planning applications contrary to their extant planning policies presumably in order to achieve a 5-year Housing Land Supply. Effectively Central Bedfordshire Council had lost control of their planning policy and were taking perverse planning decisions because their first Local Plan failed its inspection and as a consequence they had no means of defending the people of Central Bedfordshire against unwanted development.
CPRE Bedfordshire should ask Central Bedfordshire Council to challenge this planning appeal decision because although they have regained control of their 5-year Housing Land Supply they still do not have the policies necessary to defend the people of Central Bedfordshire against unwanted development. This is because Central Bedfordshire Council refused planning permission for the Meppershall development and then lost the planning appeal against this decision!
I suspect Central Bedfordshire Council will refuse to challenge this planning appeal decision because it is likely the only reason they refused planning permission in the first place was to placate the Meppershall campaign group. Safe in the knowledge they would lose the appeal and that Gladman would get planning permission at some point in the future when Central Bedfordshire Council’s Local Plan is approved. If they do refuse to challenge the appeal decision, then CPRE Bedfordshire should challenge it and the Meppershall campaign group should challenge it as well.
The arguments set out by the Meppershall campaign group about the capacity of the school and doctor’s surgery would have had greater impact if they were supported by evidence. Apparently, no such evidence was submitted by the campaign group. Therefore, their arguments were easily refuted by the Local Education Authority (Central Bedfordshire Council) and the inspector hearing the planning appeal. However, the inspector does appear to have taken the word of the Local Education Authority at face value rather than insisting the Local Education Authority provide evidence that the capacity of the school is able to cope with the additional pupil intake arising from the proposed housing development in Meppershall.
Regarding the capacity of the doctor’s surgery, it appears no evidence was sought from the relevant authority or testament given about the surgery’s capacity to cope. Therefore, the Meppershall campaign group’s assertion regarding the surgery’s capacity was dismissed by the unevidenced opinion of the inspector. I think this is one of the possible grounds that could be used by the Mepprershall campaign group to challenge the inspector’s planning appeal decision and another possible ground for challenging the appeal decision is the inspector did not seek evidence from the Local Education Authority about the school’s capacity.