Hunston Revisited

Having won Hunston Properties[1] almost 10 years ago, the seminal case on "objectively assessed needs", Paul Stinchcombe QC has returned to familiar territory, winning again for the same developer when successfully defending the grant of planning permission for 150 dwellings on the same Green Belt site in R (Save St Albans Green Belt and Others) v (1) St Albans City and District Council and (2) Hunston Properties Limited [2022] EWHC 2087 (Admin).

In the initial Hunston case, Paul secured the quashing of an Inspector's decision letter refusing permission to develop the site for housing, forcing a second Inquiry. In 2015, however, the Secretary of State dismissed Hunston's redetermination appeal, holding that although the St Albans Local Plan was out-of-date and the Council could not demonstrate a 5-year housing land supply, these factors were insufficient to outweigh the harm to the Green Belt occasioned by "inappropriate" housing development.

Six years on, however, St Albans still did not have an up-to-date Local Plan – indeed, two draft Plans had failed to pass examination, in one of which the site was now being proposed as a housing allocation. Moreover, with no up-to-date housing allocations to meet up-to-date needs, the housing situation in St Albans had worsened considerably. Whilst the Council's case in 2015 was that it had a housing land supply of 3.73 years, it now had just 2.5 years. Furthermore, the affordability ratio (calculated by dividing house prices by gross annual earnings) had also worsened - from 13.62 to 16.12.

It was in these changed circumstances that Hunston Properties submitted a revised application to develop the site for housing, and this time the Council resolved to grant – deciding that the planning benefits of meeting unmet housing needs did, now, amount to "very special circumstances" justifying inappropriate development in the Green Belt. In so deciding, the Council took it into account that this proposal had been differently designed, with additional green buffers; took into account, also, a recent St Albans' decision letter in which an Inspector had held that the critical housing needs in St Albans did, now, amount to very special circumstances[2]; and also took it into account that national planning policy regarding housing in the Green Belt had changed since 2015 - earlier Ministerial Statements to the effect that meeting unmet housing needs was unlikely to constitute very special circumstances had not translated into the updated National Planning Policy Framework, and related advice had since been removed from the Planning Practice Guidance.

A local action group challenged the decision to grant planning permission, however, inter alia upon the asserted basis that the Council had failed to give adequate reasons for making an inconsistent decision to that of the Secretary of State in 2015. On 4th August 2022, Mrs Justice Lang dismissed that challenge: this was a different proposal made in different circumstances; the Council was fully entitled to reach its own judgement as to whether meeting unmet housing needs did, now, outweigh Green Belt harm; and the Council had adequately explained its reasons for so deciding.

Read the full judgment here.


[1] Hunston Properties Limited v (1) Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and (2) St Albans City and District Council [2013] EWCA Civ 1610 (on appeal from [2013] EWHC 2678 (Admin)).

[2] APP/B1930/W/20/3265925.