Kent planning decision upheld after air quality ruling

A High Court judge has upheld a decision to reject a planning application for a housing development in Kent, on the grounds that it could impact air quality in the area.

Property developer Gladman Developments Ltd had submitted the proposals in 2014 for up to 330 homes and 60 sheltered accommodation units at a site at London Road, near Newington, Kent, which falls between air quality management areas (AQMAs) in Newington and Rainham. Plans for the site, known as Pond Farm, were later reduced to 140 homes and 60 ‘extra care’ units.

The case was brought before the High Court last month (October)

The proposals were refused in 2015 by Swale borough council on the grounds that the development could impact air quality.

Gladman appealed the decision, which led to a review by the Planning Inspectorate early this year. However, the Planning Inspectorate backed the council’s decision and found that the proposals had the potential for ‘moderate’ or ‘substantial’ adverse impacts on air pollution in the two AQMAs.

This was despite Gladman having put forward proposals to mitigate the adverse impacts of the development on both AQMAs, which included provision of electric vehicle charging points for each dwelling as well as funding to encourage walking, cycling, public transport and electric or low emission vehicles.

Appeal

Gladman then sought to appeal the Planning Inspectorate’s ruling, taking the case against Swale borough council and the Secretary of State for Local Government to the High Court.

In a hearing last month, legal representatives for the company argued that the Inspector had failed to take into account national policies to bring the UK in line with its obligations under EU air quality legislation, which would likely reduce the amount of NO2 arising near the site.

Referring to the judgement from the legal case brought by the environmental law firm ClientEarth, which formed the legal framework for the case, barristers for Gladman argued that the Inspector “should have proceeded on the basis that the government would comply with the law” by 2020, but instead assumed that breaches of EU air quality limit values would continue.

However, this argument was rejected by Mr Justice Supperstone, who presided over the case, who considered that the Inspector had “properly engaged” with the judgment from the ClientEarth case.

In his ruling last week (6 November), Mr Justice Supperstone noted that the Inspector was “entitled to consider the evidence and not simply assume that the UK will soon become compliant with the case.”

Mr Justice Supperstone also rejected arguments by the claimant that the Planning Inspector’s ruling had failed to explain how the proposal was in conflict of the council’s air quality action plan, and local development plan.

The proposed development lies between two air quality management areas (AQMAs). (Map: Google)

The ruling has been welcomed by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) Kent Branch, which gave evidence as an interested party in the case.

Commenting following the conclusion of the case, Richard Knox Johnston, CPRE Kent vice-chairman described the ruling as an ‘important decision’, as, he claimed “it means that air quality is something that must be considered” within the planning process.

He said: “This is the first time air quality has been considered as a factor in determining a planning decision.

“It had been put forward as a reason for turning down planning permission in the first instance – and that has now been vindicated further.

“Although the developer was happy to provide mitigation, the court was not convinced that that mitigation would work.

“This is an important decision as it means that air quality is something that must be considered seriously when considering planning permission in polluted areas.”

A spokesman for Gladman Developments declined to comment on the ruling when contacted by airqualitynews.com.