Appeal Court backs Pickles over Redhill green belt refusal

Plans to replace the grass runway at Redhill Aerodrome with tarmac have run into a major stumbling block at London's Appeal Court after a successful appeal of an earlier rejection of the plans was overturned.

London's Royal Courts of Justice
London's Royal Courts of Justice

Three judges over-turned a High Court decision earlier this year in which the secretary of state for communities and local government was ordered to re-consider a planning inspector’s rejection of the plan.

After a day of complex argument in the Appeal Court Lords Justices Sullivan, Tomlinson and Lewison, unexpectedly announced at the end of the hearing their decision to allow an appeal by the secretary of state against the earlier ruling.

However, because of the legal complexity of what is viewed as a test case on the way cases involving encroachment into the green belt should be handled, the judges have not given their reasons and are to put those in writing to be given at a later date.

The airfield authorities will now have to decide whether they want to challenge the latest ruling by attempting to take the case to the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court.

Tandridge District Council and Reigate and Banstead Borough Council, whose boundaries are straddled by the runway had backed the government in its challenge to the ruling.

The government planning inspector who had backed the stance taken by the councils in refusing consent, had accepted that the proposed new runway would be a boost to the aerodrome and businesses located there.

She had said that it would enable them to develop their role in serving the local business community and she referred in her decision to an additional 140 jobs and a net economic impact of £12.4m per year by 2030 as "realistic outcomes".

However, in backing the councils she took the view that the environmental harm would "significantly and demonstrably outweigh the economic benefits".

Proposals for a hard runway at the aerodrome were also rejected in 2011 and 1986, while a proposal for a commercial airport failed in 1995.

The court room challenge essentially revolved round a complex dispute over three small words in the National Planning Policy Framework - "any other harm" - and the way they should be interpreted in the eyes of the law when considering Redhill proposals.

James Maurici QC, representing the communities secretary, told the judges that other possible "harms", not just green belt issues, had to be taken into consideration in cases where it had to be decided whether "very special circumstances" existed to justify what would otherwise be inappropriate development.

He said that the Aerodrome operators took the view that the phrase means "any specific harm to the green belt". But he argued that this was not so and that it related to wider considerations.

Christopher Katkowski QC argued on the Aerodrome's behalf that the inspector approached the matter incorrectly and had considered matters noise and disturbance to other communities and the impact of additional traffic on highway capacity. These were issues which he said did not affect the openness of the green belt.

He said that the inspector had found "precious little" harm specific to the green belt.

The High Court judge had agreed taking the view that the inspector who turned down the plan had taken an "impermissible approach" to government planning policy relating to sustainable development in the green belt.

Stephen Whale, representing Tandridge District Council and Reigate and Banstead Borough Council, however, backed the government's argument in his written submissions to the court.

He said that the High Court judge was also wrong to conclude that harm to landscape character and the visual impact of the development - both taken into account by the inspector in assessing very special circumstances - were not harms to the green belt.

The application for permission to install the runway was initially turned down by both councils last May. The aerodrome crosses the boundary between the two local authorities.

Then, in January this year, the inspector dismissed an appeal by the Aerodrome operators against the stance taken by the councils. The inspector found that the hard runway would constitute "inappropriate development in the green belt".

Redhill Aerodrome Limited v The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and Ors. Case Number: C1/2014/2874

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