Cheshire East

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Airfield operator loses judicial review challenge over grant of permission for 79-home scheme

The operator of an airfield has lost on all three grounds in a challenge to the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead’s decision to allow residential development on an adjacent site.

White Waltham Airfield feared this could mean that noise complaints from occupants could lead to restrictions on its operations.

But in White Waltham Airfield Ltd, R (On the Application Of) v Royal Borough Of Windsor And Maidenhead [2021] EWHC 3408 (Admin) Mrs Justice Lang ruled that the council had acted correctly in awarding planning consent to Sorbon Estates to build 79 homes on the site of Grove Park Industrial Estate next to the airfield.

White Waltham is a general aviation grass aerodrome originally used during World War II with three runways.

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The airfield argued that the council failed to take into account deficiencies it said existed in the noise assessment and that contrary to Planning Practice Guidance it took account only of activities those in progress when the assessment took place, not all those for which the airfield is licensed.

It further argued the council wrongly used a noise threshold that was too high compared to that in up-to-date guidance and policy.

After Sorbon applied for planning permission an officer’s report stated the principle of redeveloping the site for housing accorded with the neighbourhood plan and was considered to represent appropriate development in the Green Belt as the land had already been built upon.

Local policy said development would not be permitted in areas with daytime aircraft noise levels of over 66dB but the noise survey showed levels of only 54db.

The airfield though argued the correct limit the council should have used was 55db.

Lang J said the airfield made a number of criticisms of the council’s noise assessment but “in my view, they did not come close to establishing that it was irrational for the planning officer to find that the methodology of the noise assessment was acceptable and that the results were robust.”

She said no technical or scientific flaw in the assessment methodology had been identified and the continuous assessment made over two days was likely to be reasonably representative.

The judge noted: “The [airfield’s] objections to the council were couched in general terms, unsupported by any data.

“It chose not to commission its own noise assessment to demonstrate its assertion that the [council’s assessment] was unrepresentative.”

The decisions made were planning judgments that the officer had been entitled to reach.

White Waltham also argued that the council’s decision had been contrary to the ‘agent of change’ guidance in the National Planning Policy Framework, which protects existing uses from noise complaints by occupants of later developments.

Lang J said: “The council considered that it had sufficient information to enable it to reach a decision, and it proceeded to do so. Absent a finding of irrationality, its decision is unassailable.”

The planning officer had also been entitled to use the 66dB level to judge noise as this was in line with recommendations from British Standards and the World Health Organisation.

Lang J ordered the airfield to pay the council’s costs but refused Sorbon’s costs application as it was ”well-established that, following a substantive hearing, an unsuccessful claimant should not be required to pay two sets of costs, to both the decision-maker and the developer”.

Mark Smulian

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