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Judge rejects challenge to decision to send draft neighbourhood plan to referendum

Mendip District Council was right to accept the recommendations of an examiner into the draft neighbourhood plan for the village of Norton St Philip and allow this to proceed to a referendum, the High Court has ruled.

Mrs Justice Lang ruled against developer Lochailort Investments, which owns land in the village on which it hoped to build homes.

Norton St Philip has a population of around 858 and its plan – prepared by the parish council – includes a local green space (LGS) policy covering 10 sites.

Lochailort Investments challenged two of these, Fortescue Fields south and west, which its said were wrongly designated as LGS.

It argued that Mendip’s decision on the neighbourhood plan was unlawful as it was not taken with adequate regard to the national policies and misunderstood the strategic policies in the development plan.

Two further grounds were that a policy in the North St Philip plan was inconsistent with national policies for managing green belts and that designating the two sites as areas of “particular importance” and “demonstrably special” was irrational, inadequately reasoned and unsupported by the evidence base.

Rejecting the challenge in Lochailort Investments Ltd, R (on the application of) v Norton ST Philip Parish Council [2020] EWHC 1146 (Admin), Lang J said: “In my view, this aspect of the claimant's case was a thinly-disguised attack on the judgment of the examiner, and in turn [Mendip], which is impermissible.”

She said the examiner had proper regard to the National Planning Policy Framework and there was sufficiently robust evidence upon which she could legitimately exercise her judgment on the designations.

Lang J said it could be assumed that specialist planning inspectors and examiners were familiar with the relevant policies “and failure to mention a specific policy is not, of itself, evidence that they have overlooked it.

“They are not writing an examination paper in which they must demonstrate their knowledge to the reader.

“In my view, the likely reason for the absence of any specific reference as to whether these designations were capable of enduring beyond the end of the plan period was that this criterion was clearly met.”

Lang J also rejected the point about Green Belt policy, saying the policy in the neighbourhood plan was “sufficiently broad in scope so as to be interpreted and applied consistently with Green Belt policy”.

Mark Smulian