In May 2019, Asbri Planning Ltd were instructed by Cheltenham Borough Council to prepare the planning case for an Appeal against the Council’s decision to refuse an outline planning application for 69 dwellings at Oakhurst Rise, Charlton Kings, Cheltenham. The application had been refused by the Council’s Planning Committee against an officer recommendation to approve.
At the outset it was clear that a fine planning balance existed between the benefits of the scheme (addressing a housing land supply shortfall – 4.6 years, and delivery of 28 badly needed affordable homes), and the negative impact on the settings of nearby listed buildings and loss of protected trees.
These detailed and involved considerations were further complicated by the site’s proposed allocation for housing in the emerging Cheltenham Plan. At the Examination in Public, the Local Plan Inspector had commented on the acceptance of a residential development subject to the exclusion of sensitive areas from the site boundary. This led to the Appellants’ submission of an amended scheme under the ‘Wheatcroft Principle’ for consideration at the Appeal.
The streamlined nature of the new appeal procedures, combined with the holiday period, only allowed limited time for preparation of required documentation, prior to the Inquiry which commenced on 20th August 2019 for 4 days.
At the Inquiry, Gary Grant (Counsel for the Local Authority) called Robin Williams who presented the planning evidence, supported by expert witnesses on built heritage and trees. A key strand of the argument related to the ‘less than substantial harm’ resulting from elements of the proposed site layout to the setting of the Grade II* Listed Ashley Manor and associated features, and the Grade II Listed Charlton Manor.
The Appeal Inspector, BJ Sims, in his report, dated 20th September, dismissed the Appeal. In doing so he confirmed that ‘less than substantial harm’ must be accorded considerable weight and agreed that, under the provisions of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) paragraph 11d (i), this harm would outweigh the benefits to housing. He further stated that other issues, including the loss of, and risk to, protected trees, would not in themselves outweigh the housing benefits but they do further support the case for dismissal.
The decision represents a major achievement by Asbri Planning as a Welsh based consultancy in an English context. Initially the odds of getting the Appeal dismissed seemed remote in light of an officer report to approve. Asbri’s contribution will now ensure that a sensitive site in an historic town will eventually be developed in a sympathetic manner, in the interests of good planning and sustainability.