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DCLG policy shift on Green Belt?

On 31 March 2016 the Secretary of State granted outline planning permission for 1,500 units at Perrybrook, Brockworth, Gloucestershire.

The land is within the Green Belt, and it was therefore common ground that the development would amount to inappropriate development, and should be refused unless very special circumstances existed which clearly outweighed the harm (see paras.87-88 NPPF). In agreement with his Inspector, the Secretary of State found that the harm by reason of inappropriate development in the Green Belt, and other harm, was clearly outweighed by very special circumstances.

Whilst loosening some land use policy restrictions, the Green Belt has been a red-line for this Government, and the Conservative led coalition before it. Readers will know the Secretary of State has been keen to stress that unmet housing need is unlikely to amount to very special circumstances capable of outweighing the harm caused by inappropriate development in the Green Belt. That injunction has been the subject of a circular letter on 9 July 2015, a Written Ministerial Statement to the House of Commons on 17 December 2015 and express guidance within the PPG. DCLG Ministers have also intervened to overturn Inspector's recommendations to grant permission in the Green Belt on the principle basis of unmet need, and in plan-making, DCLG intervened where the language within the Reigate & Banstead Core Strategy Inspector's Report suggested a Green Belt review was mandatory to meet housing need.

The Secretary of State notes the policy background but found at DL, 25 that "the particular circumstances of the case" merited a departure from the development plan.

Ashley Bowes, a barrister at Cornerstone Barristers with significant experience in Green Belt planning applications, commented as follows:

"On the one hand the decision is quite logical on the facts. The Council had resolved to grant planning permission and supported the case at the appeal. The planning application formed much the same land as an emerging allocation in emerging joint development plan for the area. That allocation had recently been found "sound" within an preliminary findings report by the examining inspector (although Inspector Ord's preliminary report has not been without controversy, see concern raised by Redrow Homes). Had those factors not been present, the Secretary of State might well have been swayed by the localism agenda and concerns about prematurity.

However, on the other hand, the decision is striking for changing the mood-music around housing development on the Green Belt and the Government's policy towards the principle. The Secretary of State found a number of points of "considerable importance" (at DL,27-30) including (i) the strategic aim in the Framework to boost significantly the supply of housing, (ii) the "high and persistent" levels of unmet need in the area and (iii) the economic benefits of the scheme. Those points are not particularly difficult to replicate on other sites, and therefore the decision has opened the door (some might say Pandora's Box) to more applications for housing development on the Green Belt.

When this decision is coupled with the judgment of the Court of Appeal in Hopkins Homes Ltd v SSCLG [2016] EWCA Civ. 168 (on which see our news item here) the cautionary note sounded by Lindblom J (as he was) in Grand Union Investments Ltd v Dacorcum BC [2014] EWHC 1894 (Admin.) seem never more true:

"NPPF 14, along with NPPF 49, provide no comfort to Local Planning Authorities which allow their development plans to become stale" at [78].