Third Aged Living provision as Very Special Circumstances – new appeal decision establishes a trend

26 Jul 19 | Jamie Sullivan

To fully understand where this decision leaves us we need to go back to December last year and Retirement Villages’ landmark appeal decision (APP/H2265/W/18/3202040) in West Malling.

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Wednesday last week saw an appeal allowed in Chester which re-emphasised that the provision of care and accommodation for older people can amount to Very Special Circumstances to justify inappropriate development in the Green Belt.

To fully understand where this decision leaves us we need to go back to December last year and Retirement Villages’ landmark appeal decision (APP/H2265/W/18/3202040) in West Malling. This was the first appeal decision under the NPPF whereby an Inspector found that the benefits of this form of development outweighed the harm to the Green Belt. As a reminder, these benefits were:

Significant unmet need for extra care housing that the development would help address (and the Local Plan did not make appropriate provision to meet this need); Specialist housing and care for older people will free up family housing elsewhere in the District; Wide ranging health and wellbeing benefits to the residents of the scheme; and The scheme would make a contribution to the Council’s housing land supply position, which was below five years.
Importantly while this scheme had a draft allocation for housing in the emerging Local Plan, the Inspector gave this limited weight. Notwithstanding this, the Inspector did state that the harm to the Green Belt was mitigated by the fact it performed poorly against the NPPF Green Belt criteria.

Since then a subsequent appeal at Virginia Water (APP/Q3630/W/18/3195463) was fought on similar grounds. In this instance, the Inspector did not get so far as to start balancing the harm to the Green Belt with the benefits of the scheme on the basis that he considered that the site performed well against the NPPF Green Belt criteria.

The recent Castleoak Appeal Decision in Chester went further than the West Malling one. First, Chester and Cheshire East could easily demonstrate a 5YHLS (unlike the first West Malling decision). Second, it states that the lack of an affordable housing contribution (which the Inspector concluded was justified) are outweighed by the substantial benefits of meeting the needs of older people (as well as the impact on the Green Belt).

As with the West Malling this isn’t carte blanche for every Green Belt site to be developed for third age living developments. The Inspector again highlighted that this was a poor quality Green Belt site (it is partially previously developed land and is enclosed by A-Roads). So it appears that the site’s ability to meet the NPPF Green Belt criteria is a key factor.

The other key lesson is that local authorities (even those with Green Belt) will need to start looking to address the needs of older people in the plan process or they risk having it done for them via ‘planning by appeal’.

Jamie Sullivan Associate,Planning

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