Old Hunstanton Parish Council won a second stunning victory in just under a year at London’s Appeal Court today.
It defeated an attempt to overturn a hard-won court ruling given in the High Court on July 15 last year.
In the High Court the council succeeded in blocking development of a controversial affordable housing planned for the edge of their village. In a David-and-Goliath legal battle it defeated opposition from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Hastow Housing Association and West Norfolk Council.
Today, lawyers representing the Secretary of State took the case to the Court of Appeal and tried to get the ruling overturned. They claimed that the High Court judge, Mrs Justice Lang who is one of the country’s senior planning judges, had got it wrong in siding with the parish council.
The dispute centred around interpretation of complex local “Rural Exception Site” planning rules which set out exemptions that can be made to policies designed to protect the green belt.
Mrs Justice Lang ruled last year that the Rural Exception policy didn’t apply in this case. She reached her decision on the basis that the 15 houses planned in the development would end up being used by residents of the nearby town of Hunstanton and not from Old Hunstanton itself.
In her signpost decision she said: “The purpose of the [Rural Exception Site] policy is to provide affordable housing to meet the needs of small rural communities. The policy does not permit the affordable housing needs of local towns to be met by developing green field sites in small rural communities.”
However, Richard Honey, representing the Secretary of State, argued today before three of the country’s top judges, Lords Justices Laws, Tomlinson and Lewison, that this interpretation was too narrow and legalistic.
He said that development did help meet the housing needs of the local area. There were enough people with connections to Old Hunstanton in need of housing to justify the development, even if they don’t live there at the moment, he said.
But the court rejected his arguments and refused to overturn the order refusing planning permission.
A delighted John Dobson, chairman of the parish council, was in court to hear the result. Afterwards he said: “We recognise the need for housing in rural areas. But that doesn’t mean that those charged with providing it can ride roughshod over small parish councils and disregard rules and policies.”
He said the result was “a feather in the cap” for a small parish council that stood up for itself.