The Planning Inspectorate for England and Wales (sometimes referred to as PINS) is an executive agency of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government of the United Kingdom Government.

One of the Planning Inspectorate’s main roles is to determine planning appeals, mostly against local planning authorities refusal to grant planning permission.

The 2012 National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) unleashed a new wave of housebuilding on unallocated sites, but recent research reveals that the tide may now be turning.

The phrase 'tilted balance' used to strike fear into local authorities. It describes the impact of the 2012 NPPF’s presumption in favour of sustainable development.

In the absence of relevant up-to-date local plan policies, the presumption tilts the balance of a planning decision making process in favour of permission, except where the benefits are ‘significantly and demonstrably’ outweighed by the adverse impacts or where specific policies in the NPPF indicate otherwise.

After the NPPF’s introduction, the tilted balance frequently triggered the presumption in planning appeals against refusal of applications for housing on "unplanned sites", that is sites unallocated in the local plan. In cases where the council was not able to demonstrate a five-year supply of housing land, this frequently meant that planning appeals would be allowed.

The ability to bring through major housing schemes on appeal has helped to deliver higher housebuilding rates. The big upswing in housing completions over the past two years can in large part be attributed to the increased number of planning permissions that were granted under the presumption in favour of sustainable development under the 2012 NPPF. With many local plans stuck in the long grass or with unrealistic strategies, planning by appeal can be an essential release valve to bring forward new housing.

But the days of the tilted balance leading to regular success for such appeals may be gone, with the proportion of appeals being allowed on unallocated greenfield sites dropping over the past four years. In 2014, 43% of major residential appeals (i.e. more than 10 homes) were allowed, but in 2019 this figure decreased to 32%. There has been a trend whereby inspector decisions are hingeing on issues such as landscape impact which often ‘re-tilts’ the balance away from developers, even where there is no five-year housing land supply.

Looking at the impact on the size of appeal proposals, the proportion of appeals for 400 homes or more on unallocated greenfield sites that were allowed stood at 46 per cent in 2016. This figure increased to 75 per cent in 2017, but then no such appeals were allowed in 2018 and only one was allowed in 2019. The figures show a similar pattern for schemes of 200 homes or more. Some 23 such schemes were allowed in 2016, falling to 16 in 2017, seven in 2018 and just six during 2019.

There is a view is that the appeals process has become more challenging as the result of a political reaction to what was perceived as the NPPF making appeals too easy for developers. However, the increase in the proportion of councils that have adopted local plans in place is also a contributing factor. Many commentators also think that the presumption in favour now carries less force with planning inspectors than it once did when applying the planning balance, with qualitative factors such as landscape impact seeming to carry more weight.

What does this mean for landowners?

With appeal success rates falling, there is an even heightened need to devise the correct strategy and partner for the promotion of land. This may involve a longer term strategy via an emerging local plan or devising an enhanced benefits and landscape mitigation package to help tip the balance.

As a specialist land promoter Catesby Estates continues to successfully secure residential planning permissions across the country. We have wide experience across the UK and can advise on the optimum strategy for individual local authorities.

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Contact: Ed Barrett – Associate Director, Planning

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