Earthline has to tear down Wroughton airfield buildings after losing appeal

Less than a year after successfully seeing off the proposed development of an 80,0000m2 science park at Inlands Farm, adjacent to the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty[1], Paul Stinchcombe QC has secured a second notable victory for Swindon Borough Council, successfully defending their enforcement against an HGV depot at the former Wroughton Airfield, in the same AONB.

The appeal site was in the open countryside, visible from the Ridgeway which is part of the National Trail. It was directly accessed by a narrow country lane used by dog walkers and horse riders, and wholly unsuited for HGV traffic. And yet the Appellant (“Earthline”) chose to relocate there and use the site as its central depot. Moreover, to facilitate its relocation, Earthline executed very considerable operational development – tearing up grass and replacing it with a lorry park; building a substantial new office building and an extension to one of the Airfield’s hangars; and creating a fuelling depot – all of it without the benefit of planning permission.

Swindon Borough Council duly enforced and Earthline appealed, arguing inter alia that there had been no material change of use from the site’s lawful use for Class B8 storage (and ancillary uses); that some of the operations enforced against did not amount to development requiring permission; and that if permission was required, it should be granted – making best use of brownfield land and supporting the local and regional economy.  However, following a week long Inquiry in May 2022, an Inspector has upheld Swindon’s Enforcement Notice.

Earthline’s use of the site was held to be very materially different from any use to which the site had previously been put. Since the use of the site was unlawful, there was no permitted development right to lay any hardstanding there. Planning permission was also required for the construction of the office building, the extension of the hangar, and the creation of an HGV fuelling area (which did amount to operational development). However, planning permission was to be refused for all these unauthorised developments:

  • The development was not within any category which the Local Plan supported in a countryside location;
  • The development harmed the AONB’s special qualities – notably, its sense of remoteness and tranquillity;
  • The HGV traffic generated by the development was on unsuitable rural roads and lanes, harmful to both highway safety and local amenity; and
  • There was ample employment land in the Borough to which Earthline could relocate without causing these attendant harms.

You can read the appeal decision here.

[1] You can see the Inlands Farm decision letter here