The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) generally discourages construction of isolated new homes in the open countryside – Kath Burrell, who works in the residential property team at Watson Ramsbottom looks at what exactly ‘isolated’ means in planning terms? The Court of Appeal considered that issue in a guideline decision.

The case concerned plans to build two detached bungalows on the former site of demolished agricultural buildings to the east of a small village. The local authority refused to grant planning permission for the project on grounds that the houses would be located outside any defined settlement boundaries and in a location where there were limited facilities, public transport links and employment opportunities. The council was particularly concerned that residents of the new houses would be heavily reliant on transport by car.

After the would-be developer appealed, however, permission was granted by a government planning inspector who found that the development would bring some economic benefits and make a modest contribution to the area’s housing needs. There would be no material harm to the character and appearance of the area or the setting of two nearby listed farmhouses. The council’s challenge to the inspector’s decision was subsequently rejected by the High Court.

In dismissing the council’s appeal against the latter decision, the Court of Appeal could detect no error of law in the inspector’s impeccable application of Paragraph 55 of the NPPF, which enjoins local authorities to avoid granting planning consent for isolated homes in the countryside, save in special circumstances.

The council argued that the sparse facilities in the village – which did not have a shop of its own – should be taken into account when considering whether the new houses would be isolated in planning terms. The word, as used in the NPPF, should be interpreted as meaning isolated from services and facilities, it argued.

The Court, however, noted that isolated is a familiar and entirely unambiguous word used in everyday English that is generally employed to describe a location. Despite its small size and lack of facilities, the village was a recognisable settlement and there were a number of other dwellings near to the development site. The inspector had shown a proper understanding of the relevant policy and a fair reading of his decision revealed that he had taken social, economic and environmental factors into account in concluding that the development would be sustainable.

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