Comment - Exploring the limits of green belt policy

Two of the cases highlighted in this edition give some pointers on the evergreen topic of what can and can't be done in the green belt.

First, a Buckinghamshire council had no success with a claim that the exemption for high-quality and innovative design in isolated locations, set out in paragraph 55 of the National Planning Policy Framework, does not apply in the green belt (see Innovative design secures green belt acceptance).

At issue was a proposal for a five-bedroomed house incorporating a seasonal thermal energy store, which the appellant said would be monitored to assess its potential in meeting the building's energy needs all year round. The inspector recognised that there was no inherent reason why the scheme had to be located in green belt, but also saw no guarantee that the opportunity to fund and research the technology would arise on another site.

The council also objected that the scheme could set a precedent for other green belt proposals incorporating pioneering energy conservation techniques. But the inspector reasoned that "genuine and significant innovation is unlikely to occur so frequently as to lead to more than a very small number of exceptions". He noted a section 106 obligation ensuring the system's installation and funding for the monitoring programme, which he saw as necessary to provide some of the benefits that would justify the exception to green belt policy.

Meanwhile, an inspector has concluded that adverse green belt impacts justify enforcement action against the keeping and breeding of dogs at a house in Lancashire (see Green belt dog breeding held to exceed hobby). He felt that these activities, which required 42 hours of paid work a week, had expanded over time to a point where they could no longer be regarded as incidental to the original residential use.

The inspector concluded that the use was inappropriate development in the green belt, exacerbated by harm to openness and the site's encroachment into the countryside. He also found that it harmed the area's character and nearby residents' amenity, conflicting with the development plan. The appellant's plea that he had been unaware of any breach of planning control when buying the property did not amount to the very special circumstances needed to justify inappropriate development, he found.

Both inspectors were careful to reference this July's ruling in Redhill Aerodrome v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and Others, which restricts decision-makers handling green belt cases from giving additional or cumulative weight to harmful impacts unrelated to green belt purposes, such as noise or visual impact. The judgement has effectively instituted a change in national planning policy, and inspectors are treading very carefully in its wake.

Bryan Johnston, consultant editor, Planning

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