Very special Rosewood Farm: Personal circumstances justify ‘intentional unauthorised development’ in the AONB and Green Belt
“It would be inhuman pedantry to exclude from the control of our environment the human factor”
Per Lord Scarman
Westminster City Council v Great Portland Estates plc  AC 661
Thomas Rose is a lifetime occupant of Rosewood Farm, which is located in the Green Belt and Chilterns AONB. The Farm was once used for the keeping of horses but is now comprised of a cluster of buildings for commercial storage and agricultural use. For a long time, Mr Rose and his partner, Mrs K lived happily at the farm in a single-storey dwelling at the edge of the complex. Then, Mrs K became extremely unwell.
Mrs K’s illness meant the existing dwelling occupied by the couple was no longer suitable for her needs: the property was too small to accommodate an additional live-in carer, too close to the hustle and bustle of the farm, and difficult to access in an emergency. As her carer and custodian of the farm, Mr Rose was faced with an impossible choice. Mrs K could no longer reside in their existing accommodation, he could not care for her if she left the farm, and he was required to be on-site 24/7. Given Mrs K’s illness, time was also short. He chose to erect a purpose-built property on the farm where the couple could comfortably reside, an action described by the Inspector as ‘intentional unauthorised development.’
Given the sensitive Green Belt and AONB location of the new dwelling, after one visit to the site, the local authority issued an enforcement notice requiring the demolition of the new dwelling and associated remedial works. Mr Rose duly appealed under grounds (a) and (g) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.
The essence of Mr Rose’s appeal was to rely on the ‘replacement building test’ contained within paragraph 149(d) of the NPPF and an undertaking to retroactively demolish two existing buildings at the farm to compensate for the new dwelling. Alternatively, Mr Rose wished to rely on his grave personal situation to satisfy the very special circumstances test, justifying inappropriate development in the Green Belt (per paragraph 147 NPPF).
In a measured decision, the Inspector found that the replacement building test did not apply. He found that the main residential dwelling to be substituted was materially smaller than its replacement, which was in any event located some considerable distance away.
Nevertheless, the Inspector found that the couple’s situation amounted to very special circumstances justifying approval of the new building in the Green Belt, having recognised its minor effect on the landscape and also that its discrete appearance and design limited AONB impact. The demolition of two existing buildings on the site secured via undertaking further operated in Mr Rose’s favour as the Inspector recognised this would result in a physical improvement on the land to aid Green Belt openness. In what may be considered a nod to Lord Scarman’s judgment in Portland Estates, the Inspector found “I have concluded that, on balance, the appeal turns on the personal need involved” and having heard detailed evidence on the same, the appeal succeeded on ground (a).