An Important Week for the Green Belt:
Pinewood Studios and Major Housing Development
The Secretary of State issued two major Green Belt appeal decisions on consecutive days last week. They provide important guidance at a time of renewed debate about the future of the Metropolitan Green Belt in particular, with the latest draft of the London Plan suggesting that London cannot meet its housing needs within the Green Belt constraint.
Planning permission was granted for film studio development at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire. The permission enables the current studios site to double in size by expanding onto undeveloped Green Belt land. This was despite the Secretary of State's dismissal of a proposal for housing development on the same site in 2012.
Whilst the Secretary of State found that there was significant harm to an already fragmented and very large swathe of Green Belt that should be accorded "very serious weight", he also stated that the studios were an essential component of the UK film industry and a major contributor to the Government's economic policy objectives. There was uncertainty in the economic case for expansion, but it carried substantial weight. Weighing these two factors, the Secretary of State came down in favour of economic development.
Meanwhile permission was refused for 750 homes at Little Chalvedon Hall in Basildon. The Secretary of State found that a vulnerable Green Belt gap would have been reduced, giving rise to harm of substantial weight. Permission would also have released a significant amount of Green Belt land outside the local plan review process. Whilst there was a housing supply of only between 0.9 and 1.5 years, even this did not amount to very special circumstances.
In summary, the Secretary of State has re-iterated his policy that even acute housing supply shortages are unlikely to outweigh Green Belt harm. However, development which is a major contributor to the UK economy is different. In the right circumstances the need for growth can tip the balance in favour of permission.
The Pinewood Studios decision can be found here and the Basildon decision here.
Hugh Flanagan acted for the South Bucks District Council in the Pinewood appeal. Mark Lowe QC acted for the Appellant and Richard Ground for Basildon Borough Council in the Basildon decision.