Garden village wins legal battle

photo of a sheep in the middle of a field garden village planning permission

In a High Court hearing, planning inspectors have been found to have acted unlawfully when advising West Oxfordshire District Council.

Rights Community Action (RCA), a climate group, challenged the decision to effectively “water down” the council’s net zero targets. The ruling found that inspectors had not correctly applied national planning policy to a proposal to built 2,200 homes in Salt Cross Garden Village. The area lies between Witney and Oxford, north of the A40.

The authority had originally wanted to build a fossil-free garden village and the initial proposal provided to planning inspectors included plans for only renewable sources of energy consumption to be used for the buildings. Planning inspectors went on to publish a report in March 2023 which questioned the council’s net zero carbon development and its consistency with national policy. Inspectors told the council that its plans were “too rigorous”.

The legal representative of the RCA, Ricardo Gama, welcomed the judges decision to clarify the legal position. He said that: “the case is a frustrating example of a local authority trying to take ambitious action on climate change and being hamstrung by confusion in central government.”

He went on to say that government policy had been updated between the High Court hearing and the judgement.

Mrs Justice Lieven said in her ruling that: “the inspectors’ error in respect of the 2015 Written Ministerial Statement infected the entirety of their analysis. If they had properly understood and applied national policy, then they might well have reached a different set of conclusions.

Director of RCA, Naomi Luhde-Thompson, said: “this judgement affirms what we already know needs to happen across the country. Local action from communities and local councils, developing and adopting zero-carbon plans, needs government support – not nonsensical barriers which run contrary to everything that needs to happen now to achieve climate safety and security for us all.”

West Oxfordshire District Council thanked RCA for bringing the case to the High Court and confirmed that their intention to build a “ground breaking, sustainable housing development” which would be delivered after an analysis of the judgement with reference to its impact on their plans.